Day 7: Seeing the Holy See

The good news is, the rain is ending tomorrow.  The bad news is, we’re leaving tonight!  Our final day in the Rome began with a small sleep in – until about 8am.  Then it was onto the bus and in to town.  First we stopped at Piazza Navona, and then to visit the Pantheon.  In the afternoon we walked past the Castel Sant’Angelo towards the Vatican to have lunch in the Via Cola di Rienzo area.  In the afternoon, we escaped the rain, and joined the throngs indoors in the Vatican Museum.  Our local guide, Arnoldo, was well-versed on everything to be seen, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Dinner this evening was in the area of the Spanish Steps where we had vegetarian lasagna, pork and crème caramel for dessert.   Mr. Popularity at dinner was our server, who was pestered for photos with a few of the students.  On the bus ride back to the hotel, lightning strikes could be seen ahead.  Inside, the thunder was drowned out by a group singalong to a Taylor Swift inspired playlist.  Tonight we’re back at the hotel packing and preparing for an exceptionally early wake-up call for 3:45.  Then it’s off to the airport to head back to Vancouver.  Arrivederci, Italia!


Day 6: ‘Rome-ing’ Through Time

Torrential downpour greeted us on our arrival as we stepped off the bus into Rome this morning.  And although it rained throughout most of the day, the few moments of brilliant sunshine that broke through the clouds were enough to give a few of our party a mild sunburn.  Our local guide today was an enthusiastic lady named Carla.  She took us on a journey back in time through Republican and Imperial Rome as we walked in the shadows of gladiators in the Coliseum and Emperors in the Roman Forum.  We were also taken on a subterranean tour of the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano – a three tiered complex of buildings built one on top of the other.  Starting from present day, the top ground level building dates from 1100, the first subterranean level the 2nd Century Imperial Rome, and the final floor from pre-64 AD Republican Rome.  This really was a trip back in time through the history of Rome.  In the afternoon, the sun broke out and students had some free time in the area of Via del Corso to do some shopping.  For dinner, we hopped on the bus to head over to the Trastevere area, on the west bank of the Tiber for some salad and pasta.  Tomorrow is our final day in Rome and the final day of the trip!

Day 5: All Roads Lead to Rome

Our weather luck finally ran out.  But of all the days for it to rain, today wasn’t so bad when we consider that we had a few hours on the road today – first to Assisi and then onto Rome.  With the rain coming down, it was an iPhone photo kind of day, and the good cameras were mostly kept packed away.  On our way to Assisi, Giuseppe told us about the Franciscan monk who founded the order, and how his philosophy spread throughout Christendom.  St. Francis’ influence extends even to today, exemplified in the current Pope’s moniker.  Our group had some time, mid-day, to explore the holy hilltop and go inside the basilica where pilgrims prayed.  From Assisi it was on to Rome.  We made good time, arriving with plenty of opportunity to explore both Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (and have a gelato!) before we had to head to the hotel.  A few students took the chance to toss a coin or two over their left shoulder in hopes they would one day return to Rome.  Dinner was pasta and chicken salad.  And we also sung Happy Birthday to Nicole since we had missed it earlier on the first day of the trip because we were in the air.  Tonight we’re at a hotel just outside of the city in some spacious modern rooms.  Looking forward to a full day tomorrow in The Eternal City!

Day 4: Chilly in Italy

For those keeping track on their fitness monitors, today was a 20,000+ step day around Italy’s former capital, hub of the Tuscan region, and epicentre of the Renaissance, Florence.  The city, beautified by works of arts from the many artists patronized by Medici family, awes visitors with its rich sense of history and wealth of goods – particularly leather and gold.  We began our day exploring some of the history with a tour from our local guide, William.  In typical Italian fashion, he was an especially expressive speaker, who swung his arms wildly in circles as he described how brick-layers constructed the dome of Florence’s beautiful Duomo.  William took us to see the sculptures in the Piazza de la Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio, the only remaining original bridge over the river Arno, as all the others were destroyed and rebuilt in the wake of the retreating German soldiers during WWII.  Our morning tour ended with a stop at a local leather merchant, who gave the students a crash course in how to distinguish between real and faux leather should they decide to buy some from a local vendor.  After the tour was over, Mr. Audia and Giuseppe had pre-ordered a local specialty for the group – special custard filled donuts called ‘bombolone’.  The afternoon was an opportunity for the students to enjoy some free time.  Some went to visit local museums, while others took to the streets to shop.  In the evening we reconvened to go for a pasta dinner, and despite the cold temperatures we, of course, had to go for another round of gelato afterwards.  Florence was certainly chilly today, but we’ve been fortunate to, once again, escape any significant rain.  Here’s to hoping our weather luck continues to hold as we head off tomorrow to Assisi!

Day 3: Wherefore Art Thou, Verona?

Breakfast in Venice, lunch in Verona, dinner in Florence.  What a day!  This morning we departed our accommodations in Jesolo and hopped on the bus to head towards Verona.  Set on the Adige River, Verona is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  Accordingly, we set our sights on visiting Juliet’s statue and picturesque balcony.  The play is, of course, fictional – but Verona has done its best to capitalize on being the setting for the most famous romance in Western literature.  Verona also has its own gladiatorial arena – a mini version of the Coliseum.  From Verona we bussed again towards Florence.  We paused on the edge of town for a group photo overlooking the city at Piazzale Michaelangelo.  Then it was down into the city to check into our hotel.  In the evening we went out for a stroll across town to a pizzeria for dinner.  On the way home we stopped for gelato and happened upon a couple taking their wedding photos.  The photographer ended up asking our group to be in the background cheering in a few of the shots.  Our last activity was to give the lucky Bronze Pig of Florence a pat on the snout and drop a coin in the well for good luck.  Tomorrow is a full day in Florence we are very much looking forward to!



Day 2: “The Students of Venice”

For over 1200 years, Venice stood as one of the great maritime trading republics in the world.  On our bus ride from the hotel to the pier, Giuseppe gave us the history of the area, describing the barbarian invasions that ruined the Roman Empire, and pushed the Venetians off the mainland and onto the islands of Venice’s lagoon.  Venice was also the setting for Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, although allegedly he had never actually visited the city.  Our ferry ride took us first not to Venice, but to neighbouring Murano, famous for its glass blowing.  Here, students enjoyed a demonstration from a glassblower who crafted both a beautiful vase and a glass horse.  From there we headed to Venice to see the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal including its famous bridges like the Rialto and the Academia.  We were fortunate to have a local guide, Miguel, to walk us through the palace before heading over for a gondola ride just in time before the rain starting falling.  This was the perfect time to duck inside a restaurant for lunch and do a bit of shopping.  Around 4 o’clock we reconvened in San Marco square for one last group photo and a walk back to the ferry.  This evening at dinner we sang Happy Birthday to Spencer who turns 18.  We also acknowledged that we had missed Nicole’s birthday on our first day we had been in transit, and are planning to celebrate it another evening during the trip.  After dinner, some students turned in early, while others are playing cards in the lobby.  Tomorrow we head to Verona!

Day 1: Boat to Burano

Located about 7 kilometers outside of Venice, Burano is a small fishing & tourism town, well known for its colourful buildings and lace goods.  This was our main destination today, reached after a long day of travel.  Our day began Tuesday morning at YVR and after seemingly 24 hours of straight daylight we’re looking forward to a good night’s rest.  Our first leg of the day was a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, 3 hour layover, and another hour on the plane again to Venice.  From the Venice airport we immediately set out for an afternoon in Burano with our guide, Giuseppe.  We are just now winding down with a pasta, pork cutlets and chips dinner at the hotel, located in the nearby resort town of Jesolo.  We are 1/1 with nice weather so far, and hoping our luck holds for tomorrow in Venice!