By Alli Davis
Soon after graduating from Nashville High School, Ewing’s sarcoma survivor Kaden Peebles walked into the surprise party where the Make-A-Wish Foundation announced that she, her parents, and siblings were only eight days away from leaving their small hometown and flying to Europe to fulfill one of Peebles’ lifelong dreams.
Connecting flights from Little Rock in Atlanta on May 26, the family was on their way to the first stop in London on their European adventure. The day was not only special for Kaden, but also for her sister Breanna, who was celebrating her 16th birthday on the trip.
“It was exciting for many reasons, including my sister’s birthday. I have always dreamed
of going to Europe, and thanks to Make-A-Wish, my dream came true,” Peebles said.
Landing in London’s widely known Heathrow Airport, the group spent the first night on a River Cruise Dinner down the Thames River, which flows through the center of London, allowing the family to see numerous city landmarks and buildings including Big Ben, Parliament, the London Bridge, the Tower of London and the London Eye.
On the first morning out, the Peebles went on a city tour that took them from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, where they originally planned to witness the changing of the guard.
“When the tour began, our tour guide told us the changing of the guard had been canceled. Everyone was kind of upset, but then the tour guide told us we were not seeing the changing of the guard because it was the Queen’s Birthday Parade!” Peebles said.
She said that the parade was much bigger and there were tons of guards on horses, playing instruments, and carrying weapons. Following at the end of the parade was the Queen’s carriage.
“The Queen’s Birthday Parade was exciting, but my favorite part of not only the tour, but the entire trip was St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. St. Paul’s Cathedral is not typically where royal weddings are held, but Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding were held there. The original St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1240, but burned in the great fire of London in 1666, and had to be rebuilt. There are statues throughout the cathedral that survived the fire and placed in the new cathedral. Inside the cathedral was absolutely breathtaking. It is impossible to describe the feeling of peace inside. During the tour of the cathedral we were allowed to go downstairs and see the tombs and memorials dedicated to famous composers, architects, writers and priests,” Peebles added.
That afternoon, the family took a bus to Stonehenge. After an hour of waiting at the station, the coach arrived late. After the bus was boarded, the two-hour drive to Stonehenge began with the driver announcing that, because of driving laws for buses, he could only drive so many hours in a row, and that he is going to have to stop half way to their destination.
An hour into the ride, the bus pulled into a rest stop and waited for 30 minutes, then finally returned on the journey.
Another announcement came over the intercom. The driver received a call from the workers at Stonehenge and the tour was to be stopped short because they were too late to make it to the site.
“We had to turn around and head back to London, so the driver turned around and did a u-turn in heavy traffic. A few minutes later, the driver began turning around again, and came on the intercom announcing that he had talked to the employees at Stonehenge and they were going to let us come for a quick visit! Everyone on the bus began clapping and cheering.
“When we finally arrived at Stonehenge, we had to run to catch the trolley ride through the field and quickly make our way from the trolley to the wonder itself. Everyone from the group was trying to snap a quick selfie because we only had a few minutes before the trolley took us back to the bus, but those few minutes were worth all the chaos of the afternoon,” Peebles said.
Once they arrived back in London that night, the family went to Piccadilly Circus, the London Times Square nestled at the West End of the city in Westminster. The junction houses numerous sorts of street entertainment, restaurants, stores, vendors and bright lights.
On the Peebles’ last day in London, their morning was spent at the War Room Museum that highlights World War II and Winston Churchill.
For Kaden, this part of the trip was especially interesting because she had recently visited the World War II museum in New Orleans. She was able to compare facts and artifacts from the two museums.
The next morning attraction for the family was a trip up the London Eye, once the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. The group was able to see the farthest from the top of the attraction.
The last big attraction in London was the Tower of London. The tower is a historic castle that was used at different points in history as a prison and later as a royal residence. Through many generations of kings, royal executions took place at the tower.
“The tower was very neat because it holds all the royal jewels, and we were able to see them in person. We were able to see the exact spot where different executions took place and listen to the horror stories of the deaths that we learned about in history class, told by the beefeaters, which are yeomen warders of the tower,” Peebles said.
For their last evening, the family spent their time in the famous Harrod’s department store and then to went back to Piccadilly Circus for dinner and to watch the street entertainers.
An early morning ride on the EuroStar train underneath the English Channel brought the family to Paris.
“While we were on the train, our ears actually popped from the pressure, not because we were so high in the air like on a plane, but because we were so low,” Peebles said.
Once in Paris, the group enjoyed dinner and did some shopping at the famous Galleries Lafayette.
Their first day in the city of lights took them on a tour to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and Champs Elysees. Due to rain, the Seine River was too high for a river tour, which worked out for the family because they were able to get tickets for the Orsay museum for another day.
That afternoon, they visited the Palace of Versailles, once home to the royal families of France.
“This was our favorite part of Paris, because the palace was so beautiful and ornate. Once we toured the palace, we were allowed to walk out into the 250 acres of gardens surrounding the palace. The gardens went on for miles in every direction. We could see from the palace that the trails divided into more trails and more trails from those trails. It would be impossible to walk the entire garden!” Peebles said.
The last day in Paris was spent at the Orsay where the family viewed famous paintings by artists including van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet. The next stop was the Louvre.
“The Orsay is much smaller than the Louvre, which is over a mile long, but the paintings and the sculptures in the Orsay were more recognizable to us. The Louvre is where the Mona Lisa is though, and it was exciting to get a selfie next to the iconic painting!” Peebles added.
That evening after dinner, the family went to Angelina’s, a famous French restaurant, for dessert.
“We ordered macaroons and hot chocolate because their hot chocolate is the best in the world. After dessert, we walked outside to head back to our hotel, but the National Police had the street blocked off and nobody could walk down the sidewalk.
“There were black vehicles everywhere with men carrying briefcases hurrying out of the cars, then a car stopped in the middle of the street, a red carpet was rolled out, and the President of South Korea stepped outside of the car and walked into the hotel next to our restaurant,” Peebles said.
The next day the group traveled to Rome. When they left Paris, the river was extremely high due to all the rain, then while arriving in Rome and they watched the news before going to sleep that night and saw where the river flooded Paris and how paintings in the Louvre were rushed to upper levels of the building because the first level was flooded. Each family member was relieved to have missed the flood and made it safely to Rome.
On their first day in Rome, the group toured the city visiting the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, the Roman Forums, and Colosseum. They also were able to see the Pope during a special jubilee.
“We are currently in a Holy Year/Jubilee where Catholics believe all sins can be forgiven during the year. We were able to have jewelry we purchased blessed by the Pope and sent to our hotel, a highlight of the trip,” Peebles added.
That afternoon, they took the train to a beach in Ostia. Peebles said the beaches were beautiful and unlike any beach that she had visited in America.
On the final day in Rome, the family did some shopping, visited the Hard Rock Cafe Rome, tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain and went to the Pantheon.
“Rome was my favorite city, although all three were each beautiful and unique in their own way! I am very blessed to have received the wish of a lifetime from Make-A-Wish, and to have my family experience Europe with me was even more special!”