Day 7 – Friday in Florence, Italy

So Gowanda, are you missing us yet? We’ve been gone a full week and so tonight’s post will be filled with pictures of your kids. We thought that seeing a picture of your child would be the best post we could give you after one week away.

We had the best food of our trip today. Stopped for lunch outside of Florence and had pasta (of course, it’s served here as the first course like our dinner salads before a meal at home) followed by lasagna. Dinner was also good and the entire group enjoyed sightseeing in Florence.

It’s probably the worst we’ve seen for pickpockets. Two men walked along our group for a bit but in our vigilance, we noticed them and I took their picture! Even after that, they hung around and our guys totally took care of it. Watching them, standing as a perimeter around us, and making it clear that we are not an easy mark–that’s what our boys and male chaperones did to handle it. Hey, Frank Fonti and John Swanson can be very intimidating, you know.

On a personal note, I was glad Tallon didn’t have to hit anyone after giving me his money, watch and passport-he is very aware of everyone around us and pays attention to make sure no one is a problem. A couple of our other guys, (Corey, Josh and Dylan) have also been very observant.  I think a week without karate has made Tallon a little stir crazy and punchy. The Brocton chaperone who’s with us takes karate from my husband and Tallon grabbed her in a front choke once and a rear choke another time–just to keep her on her toes. Michelle did just fine but I’m afraid by Sunday he’ll have her sparring in Monte Carlo.

This is the time in a trip that gets a little bit weird. Part of me feels sad that it’s almost over and part can’t wait to see my husband and daughter; to talk to my mom and get back to work. Plan on your kids feeling the same way, but know that they return to you stronger and more capable than when they left you.

Enjoy all the pictures tonight!

Picture removed as requested by Gowanda Superintendent

Day 6 – Rome in One Day

In the words of Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere”. That’s how we feel after this day that seems to have been at least 48 hours long.

We began at the Coliseum this morning where you can see our chaperones were prepared for battle. I’m sure every Italian thought “here come the Americans” with these two enthusiastic teachers leading our charge. We then walked to the Forum and enjoyed a wonderful guide who was able to paint the picture of ancient Roman times quite effectively.

We saw the Circus Maximus where they once held chariot races and now host concerts and the balcony where Mussolini stood to address the masses.

On to Vatican City! We toured the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica–each of which deserves its own post, but I’m exhausted! It’s quite an expectation you’ve laid out for me so that I feel obligated to post before bed each night as I know many of you are checking (according to my stats about 300 people in addition to those who subscribe through an RSS feed).

There were lots of purchases at the Vatican and this was a special part of the day for many in our group. We spent some time visiting a large Square which the name escapes me (maybe Piazza Noveno?) but there were artists and I was able to purchase an original oil painting, something I do on every trip as my way to remember it.

This was followed by a visit to the Pantheon which is equally remarkable to the rest of the day’s visits. Visiting Rome with its thousands of years of history really gives me this enormous sense of time and place that we don’t have in the US. It’s reassuring to me in a way–as if to think that all of the things we’re so worried about now are quite small given the course of our entire world history. I wonder if others feel this way? I was also struck by the enormous lengths we go to in expressing our faith in the colossal buildings that we construct. Why does each religion seem to try to outdo the others in displaying a faith and love of God through these extraordinary measures? It makes me think a lot about the troubles in the Middle East.

After so much history and a very long day (but in a good way) you might think our day was done. But no! After dinner, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, where we threw coins into the fountain while making a wish. The wish I made while doing this in 1999 obviously came true as there I was today, back in Rome as I had wished for back then. This night walk was just a lot of fun and we were treated to an Italian gelato (Grimm’s fifth one of the day, I think!) and a walk to the Spanish Steps. Our small town kids from Gowanda had eyes that showed excitement and happiness at this bit of night life. It was so much that I hope they remember it all. I know that writing on this blog will help me hold onto the details, I hope our kids are using their journals.

On to Florence, Italy tomorrow. We’re entering some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It truly was worth every penny we paid–don’t regret it for a moment. Love again from Italy, Kimberly

Day 5 – Ciao from Roma!

It’s10:00 pm and we’ve just finished dinner in a wonderful Italian restaurant
at our beautiful hotel. It was the best meal we’ve had and is by far the nicest hotel. Today was a travel day, leaving for Rome at 7:30 am and arriving at 8:45 pm. We did have stops for breaks and lunch, plus one “surprise”.

Our tour guide announced that we’d be stopping at a ceramics factory, with authentic Italian products like olive oil and cheese. What she failed to mention beforehand to any of us was that they also sold wine including free samples. Now the samples were in little Dixie cups and had about a thimble full in there, but I’m guessing some of our kids took advantage of the situation and since we had no advance notice, we hadn’t given our usual speech about what was and wasn’t allowed. Four of our kids even purchased wine to bring home to you-, the parents–and that is all in our possession. We will hand it directly to the parents upon our return home. They wanted to do something nice for their parents and I guess they didn’t realize that we actually import Italian wine into the US DAILY! It will be a pain in the neck to transport, but remember, it’s perfectly legal here for our oldest students to purchase and consume alcohol. Not allowed by us as a school trip, but legal here. Everyone handled it very well, no one was trying to hide anything, and the potential problem is averted. Bill Schindler gave our tour guide quite an earful for having allowed it when we’ve been clear since day one that we are a careful and conservative group.

Hey, it’s not as bad as when two girls got tattoos on one of my tours in the nineties–but I know just how Bill feels right now, worrying that parents (and his boss) will be upset. I assure you we have it totally under control. Figured best we use the blog to tell you lest you hear an exaggerated version and worry.

The highlight of the day came when we visited Assisi. I remember this beautiful place well from a trip I led in 1999. This is where St. Francis of Assisi is buried in the basilica. He is the founding father of the Franciscan tradition in the Roman Catholic church and is the Patron Saint of Nature. I cannot imagine a more beautiful place to be if I chose to take vows of poverty and celibacy. 😉

Tomorrow is a huge day for us and we continue to enjoy your comments on the blog. Thanks for reading and writing. Tomorrow we see the coliseum and the Vatican–tonight we sleep in a hotel on a hill overlooking the city. Sleep well Gowanda. Love from all of us mid-way through our trip of a lifetime.

Day 4 – Venice, Italy

For many of our students the day started with a six o’clock walk to the beach with Mr. Schindler and Mr. Swanson where they went for a swim in the Adriatic Sea. Can you even imagine? We also wished a happy birthday to our beautiful seventeen year old Marya.

We then took a water taxi to Venice. I don’t know quite how to post about something that left me so speechless. I was overcome when I first saw this remarkable and seemingly unreal city. It honestly feels as if you’re in a movie of a far away location in both time and place. I found myself crying as I was struck by the fact that I was standing in Venice, Italy–this centuries old city. It is too much to put into words. I hope I’ll never forget that view as we approached the city or how I felt.

The gondola rides were absolutely unforgettable. I’m so glad that we elected to do this–for the rest of our lives we’ll be able to point to that in movies and photographs and say, “I did that once!” We did some shopping (too much for me) and walked the streets of Venice. Michelle (the group leader from Brocton) and I spent the afternoon free time sitting in the square enjoying the sunshine and people watching. A perfect day.

The kids will want me to mention that we saw some famous actor, who’s real name I can’t recall, but I know as Doogie Howser. They were very excited about seeing him here–geez, you’re in Venice for crying out loud, how can Doogie Howser be more exciting than that?

Thanks for all of the comments you’re leaving, Must admit that many make me choke up as I read them to your kids. I’m not sure that I haven’t missed something valuable by taking this opportunity to completely unplug, but figure this will serve as my journal in many ways. (Even though I’m not including all of my personal observations like the hours I spent in the night thinking about how to stop my roommate’s snoring!)

We’re midway through the trip and tomorrow we travel almost all day to Rome. We’ll stop in Assissi along the way. Ciao from all of us in Italia!

Day 3 – Switzerland to Italy

Well, we’re not in “Kansas” anymore. We are in a typical hotel in Italy. The entire bathroom becomes the shower, with no division between the two. Goodness knows what our kids will do with those bidets.  The rooms are sparse and our kids have to stick tight to us here. The pickpockets are generally worse in Italy. Someone asked me why I worry so much. I don’t worry as much as  I’m vigilant in watching those around us, reminding the kids to keep their passports\money secure and to pay attention. We are watching each other’s backs and it’s a good learning experience for them.

We traveled through the gorgeous Swiss alps into Italy today. The views from the bus were like nothing I’ve ever seen. We were immersed in Italian at the lunch stop which was cafeteria style. Some students did better with jumping in there and ordering than others did.

A two hour visit to Verona, Italy included Juliet’s balcony and a statue of her in the courtyard carries the legend that Frank Fonti demonstrates in this picture.  (Picture removed as requested by Gowanda Superintendent) Obviously we had a lot of fun here.  This was a dream come true for our Ms. Geist, who teaches Romeo and Juliet.

I have to say how much I’m enjoying the adults we have with us on this tour. They are open minded, fun, and helpful at every turn. Our eleven adults are enjoying euchre and I’m happy to report that Kris John and I are cleaning house.

Tomorrow is a huge day in Venice including a gondola ride. Until then, buona notte from Italia.

Special note to Julie and Linda–have delivered your information, no worries. Please know that students can always stay with the chaperones on free time if they like.

Day 2 – Switzerland

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day in Switzerland. It’s an interesting way for us to start the trip because in many ways it’s not much different from Western New York. Most, if not all, people that we encounter speak English and so our students haven’t learned yet that we can’t be arrogant Americans who just expect everyone else to speak our language, particularly when we’re guests in their countries. Tomorrow we travel to Venice Italy and I think they will learn more and more about the differences in the world. Still, it’s important to know that we’re more alike than we are different.

There’s a fascinating thing that happens on a trip like this one. As each day progresses, we see the confidence level of our students increase exponentially with each experience. There are opportunities each day to go off in small groups, have lunch, do some shopping. We give the kids an area in which to explore, we’re also in the same area, and a time/place to meet us. The only rules are that they have to be with at least one other student, preferably two, and they have to be on time.

Yesterday, a group of about five kids never left my side, went to lunch with me, and let me handle everything. Today on our lunch break, they sought me out and came along but ate at a different cafe and then went off on their own. I predict that by day five the last thing they’ll be thinking about during free time is where I am.

It’s something that strengthens every one of them, if they know it or not. It’s a gift you’ve given them without realizing it. When they return and they’re faced with unfamiliar situations in the future, they can each think, “I’ve got this. I navigated my way through the streets and cafes of Switzerland (or Italy or France) and managed to order my own meal, pay and find my way back to the meeting place.” Pretty cool, huh?

And the visit to Mount Pilatus? Indescribably incredible. Breathtaking. I am so blessed to have stood at the top of a mountain in Switzerland today. Every day of my life I feel blessed by all that I have, my family and profession, but today I was grateful just to be alive, to be strong and healthy and capable to enjoy these extraordinary moments. Life is good.

Ode to Tech Support

I want to publicly thank Mike Frame for being the most phenomenal tech support person on the planet. I set up my cell phone for an international plan to access work email and to post to the blog while on our trip. It was all set to be activated for the two weeks for just $16 more. Well it appears that Verizon dropped the ball and I had absolutely no service today. I managed to borrow Mrs. Dempsey’s phone, calling Mike at home. Within twenty minutes Mike solved my international calling problem from Randolph! I asked every Swiss person I saw all day and tried everything I could think of only to realize that I needed to call Mike–our problem solver extraordinnaire! Thank you Mike. This was an important one for the parents of thirty six kids waiting to hear about our safe arrival. You saved the day again Mike, thank you from this whole traveling team :-)>

Day 1 – Switzerland

After traveling since 4:30 am on Friday and touring Switzerland all day today I have to say that the hot shower I just took may be the best thing about Switzerland!

The first day is always the hardest, with touring after a night of travel and everyone running on empty. The hotel is quaint and beautiful in the country. Dinner was good and we are doing bed checks in 35 minutes. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and we are moving closer to God as we ride the air gondola to the top of Mount Pilatus. Up 7000 feet!

Your children are safe, sticking tight and enthusiastic despite their exhaustion. We had some trouble with cell phone service but I should be able to blog now.

Hope you are all safe at home, Happy Easter from Europe!