Jade Taylor saw Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France in 19 days
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Cushing teenager, Jade Taylor, was nominated and accepted a spot with the People to People Ambassador Program that recently went to Europe for 19 days.
“I have always wanted to go to Europe and this was a great opportunity,” she said. “The tours were prepared, there were speakers at many of our stops and the program is well-known.”
Taylor said the People to People program is different from regular travel, or even traveling on tours. The program gets the best of the best for guides that stays with the group the entire trip, it’s high-energy and packed with things to do and see.
“This program not only shows us different parts of the world, but it teaches independence and responsibility,” she said.
Forty-five other students in Taylor’s age group traveled together. They were from Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota. Her group was based in St. Cloud and she was required to attend about eight meetings until they finally embarked.
The meetings included preparations for the trip, discussions on current events and quizzes. Each student was also required to give a presentation. Taylor’s was on France and geography.
The flight to Rome was long. It began with a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago which left late and almost made the group miss their connecting flight.
The group made it and landed in Rome the next day. Money was exchanged in the airport, they got on their waiting bus to go to breakfast, then walked five miles to the Vatican.
“The streets are too small for buses,” said Taylor. “We had to walk from the restaurant to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Plus, we still had not gotten to our hotel, so we were all in our same clothes we left Minneapolis in.”
Taylor said the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel were overwhelming, that there was too much to see.
“I will always remember the ancient tapestries and Michelangelo’s frescos that I saw,” she said. “Everything I saw had a gold trim to it. It was all so beautiful.”
The People to People group received a Viennese tour guide, Marcel, who spoke several languages. He was also a professional soccer player working in his off-season.
“We were in Vatican City for one day, then off to Rome,” said Taylor. “We were given a map and a checklist and sent off in groups on our own to find different sites in the city.”
Taylor’s group found the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona (a city square located on the site of the Stadium Domitian which was built in the 1st century), Panthenon (originally built in about 27 BC and later rebuilt in 126 AD) and the Spanish Steps (the widest staircase in Europe which connects two plazas with 135 steps.)
From Rome, the group took the bus through Tuscany and stopped in Volterra, Italy.
“We first visited a farm that originally was used to house special needs adults who would have otherwise been locked up,” said Taylor. “Today there are still special needs people living there and working for pay.”
The People to People group stopped there to do one of their service projects. They weeded the gardens, hauled hay and tilled the earth.
“We were told by one of the supervisors that it would have taken them several weeks what we all did in two hours,” said Taylor.
From there, the group went to an alabaster factory. There they learned the process of making jewelry, statues, vases and more.
“We stayed in Volterra several days, with some free time to explore the area and meet the people who lived there,” said Taylor.
Between their bus ride to Florence, Italy, they stopped in Pisa, Italy, to have lunch and see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
In Florence, Italy, they learned it was the birthplace of the Italian cultural renaissance that spanned several centuries. While there they saw lots of art, including many works by Michelangelo.
“Our next stop was one of my favorites,” said Taylor. “We went to Venice where we had several tours and learned about the history of the area.”
In her free time, Taylor went on a gondola ride and did some shopping. While the group usually ate preplanned meals together, while they were on their own, they ate where they wanted to.
“Venice was so beautiful because it was incredibly peaceful and full of friendly, happy people,” she said.
While all the streets were water, and for any distance at all, people used the gondolas, there were very narrow walkways for the walkers, with bridges over the canals.
“During my gondola ride, we went past Wolfgang Mozart’s home and the Guggenheim Museum,” she said.
The group left Italy and drove to Friesach, Austria. While there, the teens toured an ancient flour mill in the Alps and learned about the history of the area.
“We learned that when lumberjacks were cutting timber in the area a century ago, they needed a high-calorie meal to keep up their energy. We received one of those meals which was an egg and bacon combination,” said Taylor. “The people also taught us some of their folk dances.”
That night, the group slept in a medieval barn which was large enough to hold tents. Inside those tents were bunk beds and other furniture for the teens’ use.
“We were fed a huge medieval banquet of pork and chicken served family style and were able to practice some archery,” said Taylor.
In Friesach, the group did another service. The people of Friesach have been building a castle for the past 30 years. They are using no modern conveniences or technology for this endeavor. Some are blacksmiths or brick makers, others mix mortar or haul supplies. Everything is being done as it was 1,000 years ago.
“We helped them by hauling firewood up the hill,” said Taylor.
The group’s next stop was Vienna, Austria, where they attended the Wiener Musikverein (Viennese Music Association), the home of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. It is considered one of the finest concert halls in the world due to is exceptional acoustics.
While in Vienna, the group participated in another city quest with maps and a list of sites to find, one of which was the memorial to Mozart.
Between Vienna and Salz-burg, Austria, the People to People group stopped at the site of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
“It was so sad. People living near the site during the war had no idea what was happening behind the pool and soccer fields the Germans had erected,” Taylor said. “We learned the Jews were sent to the showers only to have gas pour out from the shower heads. From there, the bodies went to the crematoriums, which we also saw. That evening, the mood was very so,ber because of what we had learned.”
In Salzburg, the group toured the town, then drove to Innsbrook where they saw the sights and had a meal.
In a small village, each member of the group was able to spend four days with a host family.
“I stayed with the Sohm family,” Taylor said. “There was mom and dad (I never did get their names), Anna Maria, Elisabeth, Thomas and Paul. They lived in a quaint country home with a view of the Alps, and grew all their own food, raised cows for milk and had an apple orchard. The lived a simple, organic lifestyle practically self-sufficient.”
Taylor said she found the European people a very healthy group. They walked or biked everywhere.
“If I saw someone on the heavy side, I knew they were tourists,” she said.
Taylor was able to attend a sports day at the local school (it was students’ last day for the school year) where she played different games.
“It was hard to say ‘goodbye,’” she said. “I hope to get back to see them again.”
In Switzerland, the teens stopped at a cheese factory and watched cheese being made. Taylor said the European cheeses are much richer than she is used to.
They also were able to take a ferry across Lake Heidiland to a restaurant and their hotel.
On their way to Paris, they stopped in Stratsburg, France, and played baseball with a group of children.
The bus load of students were able to spend two full days in Paris. They saw the Chateau de Versailles, the Royal Courtyard from 1682 and the Eiffel Tower.
“We could take an elevator all the way to the top. I chose to walk up the 669 steps to the fourth floor before getting on the elevator,” Taylor said. “They were huge steps and very hard to climb.”
The group also saw Notre Dame; Montmartre, a haven for artists before World War II; Busilque du Sacre Coeur, Moulon Rouge, the Arche de Triomphe and the Louvre.
“There we saw the Mona Lisa. The picture had two guards on either side of it. It seemed as if everyone was there to see Mona Lisa and that they were ignoring all the other art. There was so much to see in the underground museum, four hours was not enough.”
Eating European food for almost three weeks was broken when the group stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris and was able to order hamburgers.
Taylor’s top favorites of her whirlwind European trip were Venice, the time she spent with the Sohm family and the Louvre.
“It was a great group that I was with,” she said. “They were all lots of fun and were very happy-go-lucky.”
Before the group separated and went on their individual ways, the chaperones put a blank sheet of paper on each of the student’s backs. Everyone was able to write a note to each other about their shared experiences during the trip.
The 50-year-old People To People Ambassador Program is recognized the world over. It sends students to seven continents, giving them a global awareness, new experiences and a great time. Established by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, it is now run by his granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower.
For more information about the People to People Ambassador Program, go to www.peopletopeople.com.