Dare to Explore Across the Pond

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James “Alex” Hanley with his mom, Dorinda Carter, at Killarney National Park, Ireland

By James Hanley

NASHVILLE, TN — Earlier this June I had the opportunity to tour the United Kingdom with a group of students and parents from my school, Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, TN. The ten days I spent traveling the UK opened my mind and educated me on what the rest of the world is like beyond my home. I hope this report can encourage anyone, especially teenagers like me, to strive for new experiences and not let the bad things overshadow all the wonderful things our world has to offer.

After numerous hours of traveling to my destination, my tour began right in the middle of West London’s Borough Market. The market was filled with delicious smells escaping from the dozens of food stands set up in every possible corner of the area. After my friends and I finished exploring the market, we decided to spend the rest of our free time eating our lunch of the fish and chips and watching local Londoners make their commutes from the steps of a near by office building. As I watched person after person pass by hurrying their way to wherever they were heading, I began to realize that even though I was thousands of miles away from my home these people lived their lives the same as you or me. The terrible fairy tale I had in my head that the British were just a group of posh aliens who only drank tea and drove on the wrong side of the road was not true at all they were just trying to survive the same as anyone else on this earth. As the first day of my tour came to an end, I stood on a balcony outside the restaurant overlooking London Bridge and the river Thames and wondered what other lessons this trip would teach me.

Day two began early in the morning as the other nine days would. We spent the majority of the first part of our day touring Windsor Castle, the first of many, lead by our exuberant guide who had the thick, kingly accent that I pictured in my fairy tale. Next we headed back into metropolitan London where we took part in the trademark London tourist traps. After dinner we rode the famous tube system out of the city and back to Croydon, which is where we were staying. It was not until we were back at the hotel that I had learned the news of the attack on London bridge and in the market. The fact that I was in those two places just the day before was surreal to me and the rest of the group.

Every time a terrorist attack occurs I always think to myself about what a terrorist’s true motive is. A terrorist’s true goal is to scare as many people as possible with their actions. If we let these terrible and cowardly acts of violence dictate our lives then terrorism has already won. So, as we stood in the hotel lobby wondering what happens next, I was afraid not to go back into London and that all the new experiences planned for me were not going to be achieved.  Fortunately, the tour would continue despite the attack. The next step of the tour was to head to Edinburgh, Scotland. We would be traveling by train to Edinburgh so while we sat in Kings Cross station waiting for our train to depart, most of our group rushed to go see platform 9 ¾ (from Harry Potter fame) and I sat down to eat lunch with a friend. We discussed the events of last night and how we thought our family back home was feeling. After the three-hour train ride to Edinburgh I felt as though I had traveled back in time to medieval times. The city’s architecture was beautiful yet mysterious; I felt as if a dragon was going to swoop down and attack at any moment. Our tour director gave us some free time after dinner before we needed to be back at the hotel so a couple friends and I decided to get lost in the many cobblestone pathways of the city.

In the morning of our second day in Edinburgh we visited Holyrood park. Holyrood park was Edinburgh version of Central park only it was twice the size and had mountains. Next we toured Edinburgh Castle. The castle had one of the best views in Edinburgh because it cast a shadow over the rest of the city. After the castle tour we had the rest of the day to explore the city as we wanted so of course I decided to go the opposite direction of my intended destination and spent almost two hours trying to get back to a familiar area. That night while the rest of the group went on a ghost tour in the famous haunted graveyard, I wandered the streets admiring the fascinating sights of the city.

The next two days of the trip were a mixture of traveling and sightseeing. Our journey began once we left Edinburgh and traveled through the North Wales lake district. We took a break from the long bus ride to settle down in a hotel that was located between Manchester and Liverpool. The next morning we continued our journey through a region known as Snowdonia till we reached the port of Holyhead. From Holyhead we road a ferry to Dublin, Ireland. Basically there is not a form of transportation I did not use on this trip.

While in Dublin I learned of its beautiful story of how it came to be the birthplace of Irish Independence. The vast monuments and museums proved that Dublin was proud of the city it had become. After Dublin, we headed to the final and favorite destination of the tour, Killarney. Our hotel was located in the town of Ballybunion. The area was known for its amazing golf course but also the breathtaking cliffs on the sea, picture the average beach town but instead of the coast being the beach it is a cliff overlooking the Atlantic ocean. We spent our last day in Killarney driving the Ring of Kerry (a much more beautiful version of Old Hickory Boulevard) and stopping every so often to take pictures of the landscape.

Riding back to the hotel for the last time I began to reflect on my experience over the past ten days. This trip taught me to view the world differently, there is so much more out there to explore but it is up to us to take the challenge. That is why I encourage anyone that may be ready to dare to explore foreign lands if the opportunity comes to them. After all, you will only regret the trip you do not take.

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