School Tour to ‘Switaly’
44 students, 6 teachers, 4 guests and a certain little bear have all arrived back safely after a fantastic school tour to Italy and Switzerland.
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Postcards from ‘Switaly’
Finn Valley College on tour 2012
Looking back on things, the 1.15 am departure time from the church car park signalled the beginning of a hectic, often frantic but truly epic five days that saw our group tour the stunning lakes of northern Italy, take in the beautiful Italian cities of Verona and Venice before traversing the breath-taking Alps into Switzerland. A trip quickly coined as ‘Switaly’ by the students.
Our first day was crammed full and was a good indicator of what was to come. After touching down in Milan, our driver for the duration, Gilberto, met us and took us to the pretty, historical town of Sirmione. The town is situated on a narrow peninsula jutting out into stunning Lake Garda. After some free time in the town the group embarked on a tranquil boat journey around the lower shores of the lake.
From Sirmione it was on to Verona, a delightful ancient city that boasts its own ancient arena to rival Rome’s Colosseum, the imposing Castelvecchio and some of Northern Italy’s most beautiful Piazza’s. An undoubted highlight for many was Casa Giulietta (Juliet’s House) with its balcony, statue and declarations of love in the form of letters jammed into the walls, padlocks and extensive graffiti.
After departing Verona we made our way north to our hotel. Perched high in the hills overlooking Lake Garda, San Zeno di Montagna was a truly spectacular setting for the first half of our stay. We were grateful to Gilberto for his skilful manouvering of the coach, firstly snaking its way upwards around hairpin bends to San Zeno and then for squeezing through the narrowest of streets that were obviously built long before coaches were ever thought of!
Awaiting us in the hotel was a traditional Italian meal of pasta starter, Veal main and homemade Italian ice cream for dessert, all prepared by the stereotypical Italian mother whose main aim was to satisfy her guest’s appetites! An impromptu table quiz before bed rounded off a whirlwind first day.
Next morning after breakfast we set off for Venice. Lake Garda in the distance below looked even more beautiful in the morning sun. After catching a taxi-boat out to Venice the group had free time to explore one of the world’s truly unique cities. A very informative guided tour then educated the group on the history and the stories behind the architecture. St. Mark’s square and Basilica, The Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge are all must see sites for any visitor.
After departing Venice it was back to the hotel for more ‘mama’s home cooking’ before setting off for a night of bowling and craic with the odd April Fool prank played after 12.00 on some unsuspecting students.
The next day was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated day of the tour for many of the students, a trip to the Gardaland theme park, and it didn’t disappoint. After checking out of the hotel and saying goodbye to the beautiful, picture-perfect view over lake Garda, the excited bunch streamed into Gardaland and attacked each rollercoaster with gusto. Blue Tornado, Raptor, Magic Mountain, Space Vertigo and Top Spin, to name but a few, were the rides that provided the thrills and excitement.
From Gardaland we said ‘Ciao’ to Italy and made our way north-westwards, past the equally captivating Lake Como and across the border into Switzerland. It quickly became very apparent that we had entered a new country. As well as the new currency and language, the landscape and houses of Switzerland offered a distinct, yet no less beautiful, contrast to Italy. All around us the towering Alps towered majestically over the many valleys that were scattered with the ornate, ordered Swiss houses, each with their own distinctively slanted roof and neatly stacked firewood sheds.
Pulling into Interlaken after dark, we could just make out the snow-capped peaks of the Bernese Alps that surround the idyllic town, knowing that next morning we would be ascending one of the highest peaks of the region by cable car. The Hotel Harder Minerva was an elegant, traditional Swiss hotel with very comfortable rooms and excellent food.
Next morning our group set off for the Lauterbrunnen area, a trough-shaped valley between two gigantic rock faces, each with several towering waterfalls cascading into the valley. Our journey to the top of the Schilthorn began with a scenic train-ride to the quaint village of Murren. The village sits over 5000ft above sea level and is unreachable by public road. The main feature being a view of the three towering mountains the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The peacefully traffic-free village was soon awoken from its slumber when it became the scene of an epic snowball fight!
5000ft above sea level was to prove to be only half-way up the mountain as we entered the cable car that transported us ear-poppingly quickly firstly to the Birg station 8783ft up before the final ascent to the viewing deck and revolving restaurant perched on the peak of the Schilthorn at almost 10000ft. The panorama from the viewing deck was breath-taking, 360°of snow capped alpine mountains etched an indelible memory into the minds of everyone present; nowhere on tour were cameras busier. Our descent back into Lauterbrunnen was also spectacular as we dropped deep into the waterfall-strewn valley from on high.
Back to Interlaken where the now customary game of football was played in sweltering conditions with some local kids before dinner in the hotel. The night was rounded off with an interesting disco before settling down for one final night on tour.
The next morning suitcases were forced closed and loaded onto the coach. En route to Zurich we stopped off in the beautiful little city of Lucerne where we visited the Dying Lion monument, Glacier garden and Mirror Labyrinth for an eclectic two hours. Some took time to walk around the delightful city centre, famous for its 14th century covered wooden Chapel Bridge, which spans diagonally across the Reuss River. There was still time left for a couple of hours shopping before we made our way to Zurich and our flight home.
Our trip to Switaly had come to an end, a truly epic school tour. So many highs, both literal and otherwise. Two different countries and cultures. Italian home cooking and Swiss chocolate. The beautiful cities of Verona and Venice, Interlaken and Lucerne. The Lakes, hills and vineyards of northern Italy. The icy-blue, meltwater rivers and mountain peaks of Switzerland. So many picture-postcard sights.
Students on tour- Sharon Callaghan, Charlotte Kelly, Aideen Mc Girr, Nakita O Rourke, Eimear Mc Elchar, Claire Mc Nulty, Mel Harkin, Cianan Doherty, Emma Gallen, Terri Mc Connell, Edel Gibson, Louise Boyle, Shauna Patton, Christopher Mc Cafferty, Mark Mc Elhinney, PJ Kelly, Matthew Campbell, Christopher Mc Monagle, Martin Byrne, Shane Mc Glinchey, Michael Patton, John Hunter, Kieran Crawford, William Peoples, Mark Callaghan, Senan Catterson, John Callaghan, Michael Mc Ginty, Michael Dullaghan, Cecelia Gallagher, Shona Molloy, Bridget Corry, Vicky Pearson, Rachel Mc Glinchey, Sinead Mc Laughlin, Emmet Walsh, Jason Laverty, Katie Marley, Emma Mc Croary, Kelvin Lynch, Paul Kelly, Amanda Boyle, Danielle Mc Girr, Roisin Callaghan and Finn the Bear.
Guests on tour- Ms Mary Boland, Mrs Mary Harkin, Mr Alex Harkin and Mr Seamus Clerkin.
Teachers on tour- Ms Boland (Tour organiser), Ms Collum, Ms Diver, Mr Mc Dermott, Mr Mc Daid and Mr White.