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Nice terror attack hits close to home for local travelers

WORTHINGTON -- Numerous terrorist attacks around the globe in recent months offer reason for all potential tourists to carefully consider their destinations and safety protocols.

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Children play in a fountain July 6 in Nice, France, in this photo taken by Paula Wolyniec.

WORTHINGTON -- Numerous terrorist attacks around the globe in recent months offer reason for all potential tourists to carefully consider their destinations and safety protocols.

But a small group of eager world travelers from Worthington was undeterred when they embarked on an EF-sponsored trip to portions of Italy, France and Spain at the start of July, never dreaming that terror would soon strike a spot they had just enjoyed.

“We were in shock,” said Geronimo Orozco, describing the reaction he and his wife Marlene had after learning about the Bastille Day horror inflicted on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, where they had contentedly strolled only nine days earlier.

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“Looking at the images on CNN, I couldn’t believe we had just been there the week before.”

Eighty-four people were killed, and over 200 were injured - many critically - when a 31-year-old Nice resident who was born in Tunisia drove a heavy truck through the celebratory crowds along a roughly 1.2-mile stretch of the Promenade des Anglais last Thursday night.

The Orozcos were among five Worthington residents participating in a July 1-9 tour organized by Paula Wolyniec, a Worthington Middle School sixth-grade teacher and experienced tour leader.

After flying to Milan, Italy, the five (including sisters Yadira Barragan, 21, and Asusena Barragan, 15) joined forces with a tour group of 44 students and adults from Chicago, Ill.

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Together, they visited the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre, Italy, and the Principality of Monaco on the French Riviera before proceeding to Nice on July 4 and 5.

“Nice is very much a summer resort city located only about 10 miles from Monaco,” explained Wolyniec of the famous site on the Mediterranean Sea coast.

“It’s all about the beach - which is really long - and shopping,” she continued. “I’d say it’s a much more sophisticated, French version of Ocean City, Md., with a walkway along the sea and a lot of high-end shopping districts.

Wolyniec also mentioned that Nice has several attractive parks and squares with public fountains and innovative playground equipment.

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“Nice definitely caters to families,” said Wolyniec.

“I was in disbelief when I first heard the news about the attack; it’s horrifying, and it still seems unreal that these innocent people, most of whom were probably on vacation, were just mowed down. It reminds me that you’re really not safe anywhere.”

Orozco said this month’s trip marked his second time in France. He found Nice to be a much friendlier spot than Paris.

“There was a totally different vibe to the environment and people in Nice,” said Orozco, who has been employed as a Spanish interpreter at Worthington Middle School for the past six years.

“The French people have a reputation for not always being so nice to tourists, but the people in Nice were very nice, even if you spoke to them in English, and I had several pleasant encounters with people in Nice.”

Orozco particularly enjoyed Nice’s market squares, which beckoned with offerings of fruit, wine, cheese and al fresco restaurants.

“The smells, the colors, the people in that area - on a street just behind the Promenade des Anglais -- provided the most pleasant experience, and that’s what I’ll remember from Nice,” Orozco said.

Yadira Barragan, a 2013 Worthington High School graduate who is fluent in English and Spanish, thoroughly enjoyed the entire tour, though she admitted to feeling a little unsure of herself in France and Italy due to not speaking French or Italian.

“I felt a little vulnerable not knowing the languages and not being able to communicate as well,” said Barragan, explaining that their time in Barcelona, Spain, following their sojourn in France and Italy was easier due to her mastery of Spanish.

Despite feeling stunned that Nice was the latest target for unnecessary death and terror, Barragan doesn’t plan to let it stop her from satisfying her wanderlust.

“There were so many people walking on the streets of Nice when we were there, and the people were really friendly,” recalled Barragan.

“I don’t want to stop traveling because of incidents like this; there’s chaos everywhere, and I definitely want to travel more because we really enjoyed this trip and had a lot of fun.”

Instead, the adventurous Barragan said one of her dream destinations is New Zealand, where she’d like to try sky-diving.

Wolyniec, who has already traveled to over 30 countries and led seven educational tours since 2003, is angered at attacks such as last Thursday’s in Nice but nevertheless not intimidated.

“Maybe it’s the school teacher in me, but it makes me angry when these attacks occur because I think, ‘You’re not playing fair, that’s not an honorable way to fight,’” she noted.

“It’s like sucker-punching people, and it’s cowardly; it doesn’t take much to kill people you know are defenseless, and I don’t understand the mentality, the type of people who do that sort of thing.”

While similarly angered, Orozco says he and Marlene will continue to travel when their schedules and pocketbooks allow.

“The dangers are always in the back of your mind, but life goes on and you can’t just live in fear,” said Orozco. “These attacks are designed to instill fear in people, and I’m not willing to let them have their way, to let them win, by not traveling anymore.

“I take the same precautions when I travel that I take here at home, but there are still many other places on earth we want to visit and the bad news isn’t going to stop us.”

Wolyniec said this month’s excursion with the Orozcos and Barragans was successful, safe and smooth.

“They were wonderful travelers,” she said, noting her next destination of choice would be South Africa.

And while they mourn with the citizens of France following the trauma of Nice, marveling at their own safe experiences, none of the five intends to let it permanently discourage them.

“Anything could happen to any of us at any time, anywhere - car accidents, plane crashes-there are so many negative possibilities,” admitted Wolyniec.

“But we can’t let that keep us from living; I’m not going to stop going places or stay in my house the rest of my life.”


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