Count your nights by stars, not shadows; count your life with smiles, not tears. - Italian proverb
Without a doubt, travel has changed in the last 15 years.
For me at least.
Gone are the days of traveling with buddies around Europe for 6 weeks or around the world with Nadine with only two pairs of underwear.
Yet, my love for travel has not ceased. The way that I travel has changed.
I have now led or helped chaperone five trips to France, Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, and Panamá.
My role as a traveler is different. Now I have to be responsible and lead. Parents put me in charge of their teenage children . . . in a foreign land.
I will describe what crosses my mind when I'm traveling with youth. I will use my recent trip to Italy as the case study.
When in Rome . . . stand out as a goofy foreigner.
Teenagers are emotional beings. And travel plays with these emotions like a stewardess from first-class tempts you holding those gourmet plates of real food just in front of the curtain.
Right off the bat, our first flight to Atlanta was delayed . . . for 5 hours. Panic sets in.
"Are we even going to make it to Italy?"
"Are we going to have to stay the entire time in Atlanta?"
At this point, as the veteran teacher and tour leader that I am, I hatched a plan. I requested $10 from each student in hopes of bribing the gate agent to make a plane magically appear. Once I pocketed a cool $220, I informed the students that she couldn't do anything at that time, but on the bright side, I had my Italian spending money, if we made it there.
Two planes transported all students and teachers safely to Rome.
Parents make sure that everyone goes to the restroom at every pause in travel, now just imagine your family has 24 members. Anytime one student has to use the facilities, everyone is strongly encouraged to relieve their bladder. And just like any family, some folks are bit slower than others. This leaves time to soak in the local culture. So our first full day in Rome, we waited during one of our dozen pee stops next to the Spanish steps.
These are NOT modern Italian toilets
Apparently there is a law that only taxis are allowed to drive in the vicinity of the Spanish Steps.
And as Ferrari owners are probably not accustomed to being told no in their life of privilege, an older man was surprised to be pulled over in his red Ferrari along with his trophy wife for doing something they were not supposed to do. Over the next 25 minutes, he pleaded his case. His hands flew in every direction, as that is the only manner in which an Italian can speak. Perhaps he attempted bribing the police officers. This all transpired while our students looked on curiously and amazement (some students take a long time to go the restroom with long lines). They red Ferrari might have provided the most excitement.
According to certain students, the Fontana di Trevi was made famous by a Disney movie being filmed there with Lizzie McGuire. As a result of Lizzie's infinity influence, the Trevi Fountain is now packed with tourists like New Mexican homes are packed with old corn tortillas. I didn't immediately think, "OH MY GOD, I MUST GET MY PHOTO TAKEN JUST LIKE LIZZIE THROWING A COIN!" I reminded my students to keep their backpacks in front of them and pockets free of wandering hands.
Law and Order / Lost in Translation
Mussolini's Il Vittoriano, or better known as the Wedding Cake, is characterized by the white marble steps leading up to the tomb of the unknown soldier. Keeping this popular centralized spot under control from hooligans is a police officer carrying a really big whistle and a mean look across his face. He wasn't scared to blow when someone thought of getting out of line.
Misbehaving American surprised by tooting police officer.
I am pretty sure now that American football must not be too popular right now in Italy, or at least with old police officers with a big, loud whistles. I thought that there wasn't any better pose than the Heisman pose in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier. Apparently it's not. So in front of the marble steps, I pulled out my best Desmond Howard. Immediately, a whistle blowing officer tramped directly towards me demanding that I stop such obscene gestures. I have to admit that tooting yellow whistle really taught me and the other students a lesson that we shall never repeat. Remember, no Heisman poses. You have been warned.
Well behaved American
Sex Ed - Pompeii Style
Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii
Huge Pompeii bathroom
Pompeii, the town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, was in favor of sex education. Discovered under all of the ash were government buildings, a coliseum, homes, and um, . . . brothels. Carved into the town streets were arrows indicating the location of the nearest brothel just like the location of the nearest supermarket now. And once you arrived to the brothel, the walls had paintings on the walls instructing guests how best to proceed. All brothels included admission to one really, short, rock bed.
Directions included with admission
Centuries ago, Romans must have been really short and didn't mind uncomfortable beds
They do have some massive and fragrant lemons in Pompeii
Following the lessons from Pompeii, we headed our sites towards heaven and the cause of Pompeii's current popularity, Mount Vesuvias. Located at Parco Nazionale di Vesuvia, we raced to the top of the still smoldering volcano to be greeted by our volcano guide, Giovanni. He immediately turned into what I would describe as the stereotypical Italian male. With slick black hair, Giovanni claimed that his "alligator wife" had made life rough for him, so he spent his time leading tourists around Mt. Vesuvius. I never figured out why his description of his wife included an alligator, but I figured I would have a little fun with his machoism.
Once we had rounded half of the cone, there is a spot where your voice echoes counter clockwise around the cone back to you. He yelled something about an alligator. I then informed the students to yell "Westside!" Not to be outdone, he had the students yell something about Italy. I demanded that students yell "alligator". Once again, he had them do a fifth yell. By this time, the kids had enough of this male monkey foolishness and continued walking. I'm sure I won.
Being the expert traveler that I am, I taught several students how to find a good deal and make wise purchases. As I was in need of a wallet, we went in search of fine leather goods during our only evening in the coastal town of Sorrento. We compared quality of leathers, price, durability. Eventually, we all decided, attempted to bargain, and purchased our goods. Mine being a nice mahogany colored piece of leather wallet. In my self perceived wisdom, in Rome I realized that my wallet carries Euro bills quite well, but the longer, thinner American greenbacks don't fit well all. That's experience right there for ya.
The coast leading into Sorrento
The one aspect of Italian culture are public displays of affection in public areas. Couples making out on benches for everyone to see, surprised our students. A few even had fun with it.
One calm evening during dinner, a young couple spoke the language of love on the grey stone bench right next to our tables. One senior approached me and asked, "Can I sit on that bench?' Cooler heads would have promptly responded "no", but since I was the chaperone, I responded, "Sure, but be in stealth mode, not to disturb them." He quietly sat on the bench, and his buddy snapped a quality night photo. The couple then realized the attention coming their direction from the foreigners, they calmly stood up and found another park.
Il Coliseo - Part 2
Il Coliseo - Part 3
Even though I have visited Rome and St. Peters Basilica a couple of times now, I learned an interesting fact, or forgot it, and then relearned it. There are a couple of Popes that were exhumed from their tombs and whose flesh had not decayed, thus they were put on display on the main floor of Saint Peters. It could be a game, is this Pope real or just a statue.
I could easily live off of pizza.
I have always been of the opinion that the best food in the world originates in Italy. This trip upheld my point of view. One of the best meals was provided by Il Boom. They prepared and we thoroughly enjoyed an array of pork, pasta, and wine (teachers only) and came away thoroughly satiated and feeling content with life. Italian food never disappoints.
With that, I'm heading to Uruguay for three weeks in late July as part of the 2012 Uruguay Educator Exchange Program fellowship. With this trip, I will write a blog a day, 21 in total, but they will be in Spanish, and I do not promise a translation into English. So if you would like to review your Spanish, enjoy the reading over the next three weeks.
Lesson learned, so well behaved the second time around
Ancient coliseum at the Roman port of Ostia Antica
Terme di Caracalla