GRANDVIEW - A group of Grandview High School students and their chaperones returned from a trip to Europe last Wednesday, and Kara Morris-Phillips, a sophomore this coming fall, said the opportunity to learn about history up close and personal was something she will never forget.
"You read about the sites, you see them on television, but nothing compares to actually being there," said Morris-Phillips.
She and eight others traveled Europe for 12 days after having to prepare for nearly a year.
Morris-Phillips, Grandview High School International Club Advisor Jamie Downing and other students from the club had to first obtain school board approval for the trip last fall.
They had to raise the more than $3,000 per person for the trip through fundraisers, such as pizza sales.
After much hard work and diligence, Morris-Phillips, Downing, Lauren Berglind, Ashley Lara, Natasha Lara, Angel Lopez, Cassandra Hudon, Deicy Orozco, Kendra Porter, Yvette Ornelas and chaperone Lynda Phillips, all embarked on an eight-hour flight to London from Seattle.
Morris-Phillips said it was the first time Ornelas, Hudon and Lopez had ever flown.
"That was interesting because we really kept an eye on them. They were nervous, but we didn't know it was their first time until we were on board the plane," she said.
The flight, she said, was otherwise uneventful, with the exception that her television didn't work.
It was difficult to sleep because of the excitement and once the plane touched down at 3 p.m. in London the group had much to do.
"We were tired, but we had places to visit," said Morris-Phillips.
The group visited Big Ben, St. George's Castle and Windsor Castle. They went on a walking tour that included St. Paul's Cathedral, as well as watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
"Some information seemed like information overload and the combination of being tired and being overwhelmed...well, I don't remember much of the history the tour guides shared," said Morris-Phillips.
She said much of the trip was spent battling the rain. "It wasn't pleasant weather...it rained all but two days," she shared.
Morris-Phillips especially enjoyed Paris, although she quickly found that reports of its smelly atmosphere aren't exaggerated.
"It smells horrid...like garbage mixed with sewage," she said, stating the group went on a boat tour while in the city.
Morris-Phillips was especially impressed with the size of the Eiffel Tower, which she stated was larger than she thought.
She enjoyed the light show on the historic landmark. "They light it up at 10, 11 and midnight...the lights flash and it's beautiful," Morris-Phillips shared.
Also while in France, the students visited Normandy and the American Cemetery. She said there was a somber mood that settled among the group as they took in the sight she describes as magnificent.
"One grave marker said 'This soldier has died and will only be known to God'...the soldier buried there is an unknown soldier...it was overwhelming," Morris-Phillips said.
She went on, stating each marker is in alphabetical order and visiting the beach was just as awe-inspiring. There are markers and platforms memorializing the events that took place on Omaha Beach, also known as D-Day.
Morris-Phillips said there was a woman on the tour who brought flowers to the gravesite where her uncle was buried and that further caused the students pause.
A 14th century abbey, Mont St. Michel, was the group's next destination. The abbey is built atop a large rock and when the tides are in, it is completely isolated from the mainland.
Morris-Phillips said the views from the abbey are breathtaking. To get to the top the students had to take a long stairwell, but she said it was worth the climb.
"You can see for miles," she said, adding, "It's extremely green because of all the rain and it's beautiful."
The group also toured the Louvre, which houses the famous Mona Lisa painting. Morris-Phillips said that painting is much smaller than she imagined and the security provided it was astonishing.
"It has its own wall and has about three layers of bullet-proof glass...on the opposite wall is a painting that takes up almost the entire space," she said.
On the 10th day of the excursion, the group traveled to Holland.
While there, they visited the Anne Frank house and once again the group was caught up in the historic significance of the landmark.
"The mood was deadly silent," said Morris-Phillips, stating most of the group has at some time read the Diary of Anne Frank, and the realization that they were visiting the home where Frank's story transpired held a lot of power over them.
Morris-Phillips was taken with the bookcase that hid Frank and said most of the home was barren. "When Anne's father couldn't find Anne, he emptied the house," she explained.
Frank's original diary, too, is preserved at the house. Morris-Phillips said although it isn't written in English, it still remains something that amazed those who were on the trip.
Experiences like that are what Morris-Phillips said she feels will be lasting, and she has hopes the Grandview High School International Club will be provided an opportunity to visit the concentration camps in the future.
"It has a bigger impact when you can see it for yourself," she said.
For the rest of the trip, the group spent time seeing the sights, such as the windmills and shopping.
"It was pretty much free time before we had to leave for London on our way back to Seattle," said Morris-Phillips.
She said the experience was much more than she expected.
"It was amazing...it made what seemed unreal real...things that seemed untouchable or mythological became tangible fact."