Sunday, August 5, 2012

Italy in a Day

Many of EF Tour destinations are visited in a day. Our Guide, Lindsay, talks of tours that feature one day visits t to Rome, Venice and more. It is hard imagine trying to take in the history, culture and food of Italy in one day, but these kids gave it the ol' college try!

It was funny to hear the stories of their Italian dreams prior to our arrival. Some wanted to decorate their rooms with all things Italy, others wanted to practice their language skills on vendors while others just wanted to defeat Lindsay's tour record of 6 gelatos in one day.

Our morning in Florence started with a guided walking tour. Our guide led us though the maze of streets past restaurants that have been serving pasta for hundreds of years, old market places and statues carved by masters.  The whole center of the walled city is covered in cobblestones. It is amazing to hear the clip clop of horse drawn carriages getting closer to you as you walk the streets just as one must have heard in the times of Michelangelo.

The kids commented on how bizarre it was to have a church like the Duomo stuck right in the middle of these streets lined with houses and shops. It is as if they wanted it to be in its own area far enough away from the hubub of daily life. It is a little hard for some of them to see a time when church was part of daily life especially with the plague ravaging the city outside.  (Perhaps I will have them read parts of The Decameron before next year's trip.)

During our free time to roam the small city within a city, some kids choose to just shop and hone their haggling skills in the market. As a warning to you back home, some of them are getting very good at it. Others choose to climb the shorter bell tower of the Duomo.  It was a smart use of time for first-timers because not only are there less stairs but it also doesn't have the line compared to the dome climb. I past on the dome climb in 2008 and wasn't about to miss it this time. You see, the dome climb has about an hour's wait before walking up a grueling 463 steps most all of which are inside a tight stone spiral staircase.  The first reward comes about halfway up when you pop out onto a ledge inside the church dome directly under the gigantic paintings of purgatory. The rest of the climb is in between the interior and exterior walls finishing on top with a spectacular view from of one of the largest church domes in the world. The two hour trip is a must-do event and worth a trip back.

When we met back at the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, we heard tales of victory, bargains and plain old good times. Your kids must really like you because the bounty they bought will make you feel like you went with them.

We finished our day with a breathtaking scramble to the top of the Piazza de Michelangelo over looking the Arno  River lined with the red clay rooftops of Florence.  Equally impressive was the site of the the Duomo popping out of it all like striped hill.

Each student made the most of our day visit.  It just goes to show you that it's not the amount of time, but the how you use the minutes.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sit Right Back and Hear a Tale...

There always seems to be a dominant mode of transportation on each of these tours.  I am not talking about your feet.  Every tour features you dragging yourself up and down staircases, down cobblestone streets and across cities with no concern for your inside voice screaming to just sit in front of a TV watching Jersey Shore, eating a bowl of pretzels.   

I am talking about the transfer.  The mode that takes you from one amazing spot to the next.  In the past, this has always been the bus.  On this tour it has to be the boat.  With four different rides, the kids are quickly becoming expert sailors.  

We began our water crossings with a jaunt across the Mediterranean Sea from Barcelona to Italy aboard the Grimaldi Line.  With cars and trucks rolling past, we boarded the ship at 10pm.  We are assigned our usual cabin mates and given our usual paper room keys.  These cabins were very similar to the train cabins of our past with their drop down bunks and tiny spaces.  The difference here is that each room has its own "bathroom".  A better description would be a "water closet" because it is the size of a hall closet that usually ends up covered in water.  

Another difference with this mode of transportation is the amount of sleep that it affords and the freedom to roam.  If you wanted, you could lay down on your bed, go to sleep, and not get up until arrival.  I heard that one of the kids caught 12 hours of zzzzs from Italy to Greece.  Not too shabby!  

The other benefit is the ability to get up and walk around seeing the sights.  These boats are international habitats of humanity.  From ponytailed backpackers to entire families in a "deck tent", there is plenty to see while engaging in Europe's favorite pastime, people watching.  

There also is always room for a little trouble.  A certain student used an open microphone in one of the conference rooms to help him sing "Happy Birthday" to one of the kids on our trip from Spain.  Little did he (and we) know that the mic was set up to broadcast to the ship.  Needless to say, the whole ship found out that someone could use some voice lessons upon our return. :D  We also had an opportunity to visit the bridge of one of our ships.  We were all a little surprised that a very small crew runs these very large boats.  

The kids fill their time with laying around the pool, staring off the deck into the blue blue water, and an occasional shimmy and shake in the disco. This is like practice for the real thing coming up next week.

Today, we finished our series of ferry boats with an Adriatic Sea crossing and a final run out the back deck.  Tomorrow, we start the cruise ship tours with a day trip that skirts the Ionian Sea.  Of course, Monday starts our final four day island cruise with a run around the Aegean.

Bon Voyage!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dinner Time

This is usually an event that doesn't come soon enough. It is a time to refuel after a day of walking and climbing. It is also the time where kids swap stories about their adventures from the day. Who got the best deal from a street vendor, who's chaperone led them to the wrong subway (not mentioning names), and do on.

On our first stop this tour, we have found ourselves enjoying our Barcelona hotel's dinner buffet more than a couple of times. Having this much selection is almost never been part of the plan, so we are encouraging the kids to eat up. A couple of years ago, we ate goulash almost every night, so the choices have been pretty good for the kids.

In my experience, the meals are mostly uneventful with a few exceptions. It is usually benign enough for most any teen palate. The hotel at least features one here daily a pan of french fries so no one starves.

Each meal also comes with a beverage and that beverage is water. Kids learn very quickly to pace themselves in order to stretch those bottles on the table through the meal. Everyone is having a great attitude about the water...even our most die hard Pepsi fans (I'm not mentioning any names).

Sadly this bounty cannot last. Our first morning on the ferry was a testimony to that, but that is another story.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Going Gaudí

We have spent the last two days perusing the winding roads that decorate Barcelona.  One of the things that I did not expect to experience is the impact that the famous architect, Gaudi, has had on this city.

On our guided tour yesterday morning, our first stop featured the architect/artist's work in Park Güell.  It really does take a little effort to look past the whimsy of  his work to see just how incredible it is.  He was hired by so many to produce his magic for them.

Our bus driver, Kim, and our guide, Tony, led us to Gaudi's most famous, yet incomplete work, the Familia Sagrada.  We walked around the entire church in awe of its graduer.  We have saved the trip inside for Saturday morning.  While it is no longer possible to climb the towers, I hear that we can take the elevator up.  Not ideal, but we'll take it!

Today, we added a little more Gaudi to our trip with a stop at two of his famous houses, Battló House & Casa Mila.  It really must have been awesome to live in these houses.  Now, both are open to visitors and budding photographers.

I love it when students get a taste of different art forms from around the world.  The get to see how that art impacts the culture, design, and feel of a city.  I can't wait for them to celebrate our next city's famous artist, Michelangelo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greetings from Barcelona!

We arrived into Barcelona El Prat Airport this morning at 8:30am after a couple uneventful flights from the California. Many of the kids had a chance to catch up on missing sleep but a few fell victim to the temptations of free viewings of the Hunger Games on the 9 hour flight from Atlanta..

Upon arrival in Spain, we were greeted by EF Tour Guide, Lindsey. A few kids were treated to a little ATM drama while the rest of us waiting for our other 4 tourmates from New Jersey to arrive. They are a great girls and are already starting to fit right into our group.

Hotel Catalonia Park Putxet, our hotel for the next 4 nights, rests on the hill on the east side of town.  Even better than the fact that we could check into our room at 10am, was the wifi code Lindsey handed out in the lobby.  That wifi speed here bogged down to a crawl after a few seconds with everyone immediately accessing Facebook & Instagram.  Nice!

After a quick re-fresh in our rooms, we ran down to the nearest subway and rode it into the center of town. It was fun showing some of the kids how to ride the subway for the first time.

In just a few minutes, we arrived at the famous Placa de Catalunya where we wandered down a maze of streets taking the time to check out the views. We even ran into members of the USA Olympic Basketball Team. There are so many amazing sites to see here and the kids, in spite of their lack of sleep, have maintained a great attitude for travel.

We returned to the hotel around 7pm and were treated to a buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant. It had to be one of the better meals that I have seen on tour. After dinner, kids sluggishly slid out of the restaurant and up to their rooms. Not sure they need to be reminded about a curfew tonight. I am positive the kids will be asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Return of the Traveler's Blog!

In just three short days, 29 students and 5 adults will board a bus for the official start of our 4 country, 18 day trip to Europe. To see where we are headed, check out our site at Ziessler Educational Tours.

To get ready, we have dusted off our blog, plugged in our twitter account, and fired up the Youtube channel.

Stay tuned here for brief updates about our travels, videos and pictures. We hope that you enjoy our hearing about our travels.

First stop is Barcelona!

Luggage Photo