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!