Posted by: Ginny Prior | March 1, 2010

Around the World in 16 Days

contracostatimes.com: February 19, 2010

By Ginny Prior

These days, sending a student off to college almost always includes a semester abroad. Add up the cost, and you know the strain this can put on the family budget.  But at St. Mary’s College, last month, my students and I traveled the world in 16 days – for less than $300 each.

Before you go crazy doing the math, I’ll mention the “world” part was figurative. We didn’t really circumnavigate the globe; we rented a motor coach and stayed close to home. We toured world class cities, quaint coastal towns, French-inspired vineyards and Irish coasts – all within an hour’s drive of Moraga.

Each week, my 21 travelers set out for adventure. Week one was a Duck Boat tour of San Francisco, in a World War Two style amphibious vehicle. At least one student imagined he was traveling back in time. “The US troops sat silently in fear as they watched their DUKW putter closer and closer – piercing the foggy mist towards the bloody scene at Normandy.”  In every case, my students were surprised to see the city with new eyes, rumbling through the streets in a half jeep/half boat and then splashing into the Bay near the Embarcadero.

Week two was wine country, and I’m aware of the irony. Not one of my travelers would taste the fruits of the vines unfolding before them. Yet the tour of Cline Cellars seemed tantalizing, just the same.  “Although harvest season has passed,” one student wrote, “I could smell the smooth sweetness of red wine as we entered the barrel room and toured where the bottling took place. It seems to me that wineries have a certain magic about them, all the work that goes into producing such a fine flavor.”

Just as impressive was the town of Sonoma, where my class got a tour from St. Mary’s alum Nancy Simpson. With an eye towards architecture, (Nancy is with the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation) the students soaked up the historical significance of Sonoma Square. “Downtown Sonoma might just be the most immaculate blend of nature’s beauty, living history, unique shopping, mouth-watering cuisine and a rich variety of some of the world’s best wines,” one student observed. And who needed wine tasting when you could have cheese tasting?  “As if the storeowners could read my mind, I was delighted to see a plethora of toothpicks and a welcoming sign that read, “Please sample as many as you wish.” I think I was in heaven.”

Week three proved that travelers must be flexible. It poured on a day when our schedule called for llama trekking in Redwood Regional Park. We were forced inside, but came up with a terrestrial trip to Chabot Space & Science Center, and a viewing of Tales of the Maya Skies. Will the world indeed end in 2012? My students would learn the answer, or at least gets some clues – based on the experts’ interpretation of the Mayan Calendar.

Week four was a drive down the San Mateo Coast, a rugged stretch of shoreline reminiscent of Scotland and the Emerald Isle.  It was, perhaps, the most dramatic of sceneries – best captured by camera. The students snapped photos and set them to music – their productions so moving they brought tears to my eyes.  It was a memorable way to wrap up our time together.

In probably every case, these students will go on to study abroad. They’ll have life changing experiences in London and Madrid and eventually settle into careers – in the Bay Area or beyond. My hope is they’ll think of our travels as proof – that adventure begins in your own backyard.

If you go:

San Francisco Duck Tours: http://sanfranciscoducks.com/

Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau: http://www.sonomavalley.com/

Cline Cellars: http://www.clinecellars.com//index.cfm

Chabot Space & Science Center: http://chabotspace.org/

San Mateo County CVB: http://smccvb.com/

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