Day 1 and it was a very early start for pupils and parents alike. The coach left Invergordon full of excited pupils, and staff, at 4:00am. A smooth journey down the road with plenty of stops to kill a bit of time. Arrived at the ferry terminal in Hull with plenty of time to spare. All pupils now exploring the ship and awaiting dinner.
Dinner proved to be a success, particularly the waffles! At night most chilled outside on the top deck while others had fun ‘cutting shapes’ at the disco.
Day 2: Pupils awoke well rested after going to bed at 10:00pm. We all headed down for breakfast and then back up stairs to get ready for another busy day. Some needed a little more time than others to get ready, we struggled to see the carpet in some of their rooms, 4 girls sharing a room no bigger than a bathroom was never going to end well.
A short trip in the coach and we arrived in Brugge. First stop was Roose’s chocolate world, yummy! Plenty of chocolate was eaten and even more purchased. Hopefully the cool bags do their job and they arrive home in an edible state.
Next up was the city centre itself. All enjoyed having a bit of free time to take in the sights and have a look around the shops. Everyone grabbed a spot of lunch and again more waffles and delicious ice cream for many.
We arrived at our hotel at around 5:00pm. The pupils are delighted with the size of their rooms, they seem like penthouse suites compared to the ferry. A quick dinner and then changed into school uniform for the ‘Last Post Ceremony’.
We arrived in Ypres at the Menin Gate for the ceremony and joined hundreds of spectators. The ceremony takes place at 8:00pm everyday and has done so for the last 90 years (only stopping for a short period during WW2). Once the ceremony was complete some pupils went off in search for names of relatives on the various panels within the memorial. Three pupils laid a wreath on behalf of all staff and pupils of Invergordon Academy. Those that didn’t know of any relatives that may be named headed off in search of panel 38. The names of soldiers from the Highland regiments (Cameron Highlanders, Seaforth Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders) were engraved into panel 38.
Day 3: Today we spent time visiting some of the museums and cemeteries near Ypres. First stop was the Passchendaele museum. The pupils found all the exhibits very interesting and particularly liked walking through the trenches.
Next up was the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. It is now the resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire from the First World War.
We visited the Hill 62 memorial around lunchtime. The Canadian Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood) Memorial is a war memorial that commemorates the actions of the Canadian Corps in defending the southern stretches of Ypres. A very popular activity there was looking through the photo boxes. Pupils could flip through genuine photographs from the war itself.
The afternoon took us back into the centre of Ypres. We spent around an hour looking round the new interactive In Flanders Field Museum. The pupils loved the hi-tech displays and informative videos.
That’s our time in Belgium over and we’re back on the coach again heading South into France. The pupils are getting rather excited now about getting to Paris this evening.
Day 4 started with the group experiencing rush hour in Paris. We eventually managed to get dropped off in the city, finding a place for the coach to stop proved difficult. The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre was our first stop. The lovely warm weather made the walk up the steps and around the grounds very enjoyable. We managed to squeeze in time for a quick dash around some of the shops behind the Sacre-Coeur. Crepes with Nutella seemed to be a massive hit.
We met back up with the coach and headed into the city centre. Driving on the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe was very entertaining. It was not as busy or crazy as our coach driver Simon had experienced. All the staff on the coach with a driving license were certainly glad that it was Simon driving. We got off the coach near the Eiffel Tower and a short walk provided a great back drop for many group photos and selfies.
The group then headed off to the pick up point for our sightseeing boat cruise on the River Seine. After our 1 hour trip down the river a lot of the group were keen to hit the shops, Champs Elysees it is then. Many of the group were trying to spot celebrities in famous stores such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. At one point there must have been at least half the group in a certain makeup store, the highlight for many of the girls.
Day 5 and there was a ‘Buzz’ about the hotel. The pupils have never moved so fast. They were down for breakfast and suitcases all packed before some of the staff. We took the short coach ride for Disneyland and arrived just as the park opened. A lot of the pupils, and staff, were looking forward to seeing some of their childhood heroes. The pupils all headed off in their small groups in search of some of the characters and also began to tick rides off from their ‘must do’ lists.
We had the occasional ‘check in’ right in front of the castle to see that all were still okay, drinking enough and applying sun cream. With it being the summer the park closed at 11:00pm. As that time edged ever closer we had some pupils squeezing in that one last rollercoaster while others were making that one last purchase at the gift shop. As the park closed we gathered for one last time in front of the castle to watch in amazement the famous illumination/firework show. The show was so impressive that some of the group got a little emotional whilst watching. Whether it were a toddler from Spain or a teenager from Invergordon the facial expression was the same, sheer joy and delight.
Day 6: Thursday 4th July marked the last day in school before the summer and also the last day of the trip. All their friends back home will be extremely excited about today and looking forward to lunchtime for when the school bell rings. Our group did not share that same excitement. Some will be sad to see the trip end but all dreaded the mammoth coach trip home.
We were picked up at midnight from Disneyland Paris and had a 3 and a half hour journey North to Calais. There weren’t many smiley faces as the pupils were woken up to get their passports checked at border control. Our coach driver Simon did a fantastic job of avoiding roadworks etc and got us to Calais well ahead of schedule. As a result we managed to get on the ferry 2 hours earlier than originally booked.
This ferry crossing only lasted 1 and a half hours. It was every man, woman and child for themselves when it came down to finding an area to sit in the lobby or restaurant. Some tried to get comfortable and catch 40 winks while others had some refreshments and chatted. The tannoy sounded at around 5:30am (UK time) and instructed us to return to our vehicles. Yellow stairs, car deck 5 was our route back to the coach. With all onboard and accounted for we disembarked the ferry to the wonderful sight of the ‘White Cliffs of Dover’. The pupils got themselves comfy again, or as well as they can be on a coach with 55 people, in an attempt to get back to sleep. As we travelled up the A1 to our first service station stop at Peterborough services the coach was almost silent throughout the journey.
We had a switch of drivers in Leeds and the pupils all gave Simon a cheer and a round of applause as he left. With the new driver Stewart at the wheel we continued on our journey. A long tailback on the A66 meant the 2 hours we gained on the earlier ferry had now disappeared. Once clear of the traffic we had a fairly smooth remainder of the journey. The coach rolled into Invergordon for 10:00pm to a crowd of excited parents and siblings. The pupils were all keen to get home for a shower and a comfortable nights sleep in their own bed.
The trip was a massive success. All pupils were extremely well behaved and were a credit to the school and their families. When chatting to them all on their way home it was brilliant to hear that there were so many different highs from them. The list of highlights consisted of Disneyland, sightseeing in Paris, Tyne Cot Cemetery, war museums and even the architecture of Brugge. Hopefully the pupils will now head home with numerous photographs and memories that they will talk about for years to come.