The red-eye express of 7000 kms. from Montreal to Zurich to Rome landed us safely at Leonardo Di Vinci airport
north of Rome, as we still gasped over the beauty of the Alps, viewed for the first time by these eager Gonzos.
Gabriella, our tour guide greeted the 6 chaperones and 33 excited students, and to this day I can hear her voice and
see her charging ahead to the next great attraction over the 9 days we were with her. "Attenzione! Bella, bella!
Buon Giorno!" Her enthusiasm and love for Italy was a highlight for all of us! These 2 Gonzos WILL be back and
Gabriella will be our travel guide for sure!
So, here we are, right off the plane, NO SLEEP as students were very excited (hormonal??) and Gabriella says "Off
we go for a WALKING tour of Rome," punctuated by bus and metro rides. Trevi Fountain (threw coins over our
shoulders, made wishes and had gelato #1- ice cream to all of you! Robert was in heaven!), then trecked over to
Spanish Steps and lounged in the sun, with half of Rome's population (do these people ever work? They best
Montrealers for their love of outdoor cafes, lounging in the sun and having a cappacino). Shopped local Armani,
Versace, Chanel and Yves St Laurent shops ( the shopkeepers smoke while ignoring you as you DEFINITELY don't look
like you have money).
Back to our hotel for a nap, Robert and I overslept the dinner call and ended up staggering down the street to the
local pizza place to catch up with the group. Jet lag hits, everyone crashes for the night BUT Gabriella has us all up
at 6:00 A.M., on the bus and over to the Vatican, lining up by 8:10 (2:00 in the morning Mtl. time).
Incredible sights as we walked through the 600 metre long Halls of Statues, of Tapestries, of Maps! After this, we
were primed for the Sistine Chapel by tour guide Ned then stood in awe for half an hour trying to absorb the beauty of
it all..5 years lying on his back? Michaelangelo didn't have enough punishment with this so came back for another 3
years painting the Last Judgement. WOW!
Then, over to St Peter's Basilica, seeing the Pieta behind bullet-proof glass, St Peter's tomb and statue, Swiss
Guards escorting an ambassador in to see the Pope, and incredible statues and murals throughout. Out to stand in St
Peter's Square, imagining a crowd of 600,000 people gathering to hear the Pope at the balcony. Quick lunch, then
lovely Gabriella and handsome Ned say "Veni! Veni!" Off we charge to the Roman Forum which then SET THE THEME
FOR THE REST OF OUR TRIP!!! THE WEATHER!!!! As the group of 37 people headed towards the huge Roman arch
outside the Forum, the heavens literally opened and down poured.....HAILSTONES! ... pelting us grandly and making
us scurry for cover. Ned and Gabriella gamely explained the splendors of the Forum over the roaring of the hail
pounding the stones and ground, THEN the lightning and thunder started! The gods were talking to us!! Unforgettable
experience and to this day I don't know what the Forum looks like as we ran through the ruins praying to arrive alive
at the Colliseum on the other side.
Sun came out at the Colliseum, Ned explaining how the lions and gladiators were hoisted up through the floor of
the Colliseum to stage their great fights, how the elliptical shape of this place made for no echoes and 70,000 people
would hear the news of the week from the local newscaster, how they flooded the Colliseum in order to stage naval
fights...this was the original Tim Horton's for gatherings and gossiping!! Don Cherry would've loved this place!! Had
some free time to explore and wander about then staggered back to the hotel, sleep-deprived, then out to dinner.
Robert danced with the Italian performer and I drank wine with her partner. Is this a switcheroo?? No need to worry
about students as they are EXHAUSTED! Thank you, Gabriella and Ned!
Up and at 'em, heading to the Catacombes. a cheerful place where they buried Christians hundreds of years ago in
4 descending layers of 300 feet in the volcanic ash and lava....great to dig in, apparently, so for 300 years, they created
mazes and labrynthes that would've challenged Tom Sawyer. Families would gather in these walk-in tombs and
celebrate their ancestors at the family plot, private rooms which strangely reminded us of the bunk systems for the AT
huts in the Whites!! Walked over to see the Via Apea, the 2000 year old Roman Road running right beside the
Catacombes, these roads stretching from Iran to Hadrian's Wall in Britain, across Spain and northern Africa. After, into
Rome for shopping, Robert and I succumbing to jet lag, found a quiet garden full of antiquities and snoozed in the
sun, munching on paninos (sandwiches, get your minds out of the dirt!). Ancient ruins everywhere, lovingly preserved
and presented. Gelato # 2 found here!
Impressions of Rome? A beautifully preserevd city, where 2500 year old sites are found comfortably beside
McDonald's and Subway outlets. All old sites are refurbished and preserved proudly, however the subway looks bad
with graffiti and EVERYONE seems to smoke...indoors and outside. People are OK friendly, appreciate it if you speak
some Italian to them mixed with our bad French and they come back with decent English. And these people of Rome
LOVE TO SHOP AND DRINK LATTES! Another thunderstorm hit us one night as we searched for "the perfect gift" and
the lightning did not deter the shoppers ONE BIT!
Monday, March 4, we call BIZARRO day. Bus wouldn't start so kids were trying to push it...jump starting a huge
bus?? Then, headed south to Naples, driving through a thick snowstorm, Gabriella on her trusty cellphone trying to
find out if the roads were closed! Apparently her husband's school in Tuscany was shut down for days because of
snow...no plows in Italy but we saw a pile of salt in the mountains...how to spread it? By hand? By airplane? Naples
traffic VERY BAD...read GRIDLOCK...so the group of 37 hopped off the bus in mid-traffic and walked through the cars
and trucks, etc. to the ferry terminal. On to the Catamaran for the low point of our trip....rough seas, high winds and
everyone was throwing up as we approached the lovely Isle of Capri. My memory of this was of our little girls
scurrying about the "cat" clutching handfuls of plastic bags for her buddies who were on the floor puking! Gladly off
the "cat" onto a shuttle bus which would've made Goat proud as it clung to the mountainsides as we headed up to the
top of Capri. Lovely, sunny, great shopping, beautiful vistas 2000 feet below as we munched our picnic lunch, had
Gelato #3 but didn't see Tom Cruise and his yacht off the coast. Down the mountainside, the driver honking frantically
at every hairpin turn, beside trees laden and groaning with lemons and oranges, all for the factory that produces the
famous Lemoncello liqueur..37% alcohol content! Free samples induced all of us to buy a VERY small bottle. Great
Ferried over to Sorrento and a tour of the inlaid woodworking place, bought some lovely Merrino glass from
Venice, then south along the beautiful coast to mountain-top Termini which brought the appropriate ending to our
BIZZARRO day. While "shopping", our girls flirted with some Italian boys who decided that LOVE was FOREVER and
refused to leave outside the hotel until well into the wee hours of the morning. Singing and, as the girls told me,
"doing things with obscene objects" which happened to be the fingers off the papier-mache Popeye standing outside
our hotel. Yes, you read right, the town had had a Carnival and this Popeye was a float. The Italian boys were
climbing it and trying to woo the Canadian girls! Thank goodness the daily thunderstorm came along and pelted the
boys off the Popeye, with a few good lightning strikes sparking and sizzling the nearby mountain tops!! No sleep that
night! Ah well, we thrive on sleep deprivation!!!
After Bizzarro day, the only thing left was that Vesuvious would erupt as we visited the Pompeii ruins on Tuesday.
Hard to believe that 24,000 people died here in 79 A.D., suffocating from sulphur fumes and buried by 10 feet of ash.
Many countries have combined to excavate this town over many years, now allowing us to glimpse a way of life...a
bakery with its ovens, a wine shop, murals and frescoes still full of colour and life, temples and shopping areas, even
a brothel with its "pictures de jour", like ordering a #4 at Timmies! A sobering tour with the kids and adults alike
hanging on to every word of our tour guide, Roberto (no, not OUR Robert!). Another place that needs to be visited
Then on to the bus, driving through several inches of snow, over the Appenine spine of Italy to the east coast
farming region of Italy to Brandisi. A huge modified car/truck ferry awaited us for the 14 hour overnight ferry ride to
Partha in Greece. Nice cabins for us all even though the shower was another challenge...a hose with spray head and
a drain hole in the floor right beside the toilette...no shower curtain here!! NOW, I have been restraining myself up to
this point to editorialize about the bathroom facilities in Italy BUT we must say something!! No, we did NOT see open
holes-in-the-ground as McDonald's in Rome was the choix de jour for public toilets...we were warned by Gabriella that
"Mickey D's", as the kids call it, was really the only decent facility in town. Actually, the Colliseum had porta-potty
type facilities, now that I think about it. Anyways, the bidets caused quite a stir among the ladies who experimented
with them a bit, reporting back at breakfast about their impressions. Yes, being so close-quartered for 9 days allowed
us to comfortably share this sort of bodily-function information, even at breakfast! The boys, for once, were silent on
this subject! But it was the showers!!!! Hand-held hoses with shower heads, snaking wildly about the bathroom if not
held "just-so" and pools of water collecting on slick ceramic tiles...Downright dangerous!!!!! And Robert and I were
just two people...I can't even imagine what the bathrooms of the 4 students-to-a-room looked like...Yikes!!! Anyways,
back to the ship after this little rant..Relaxed the curfew for the kids (no where to go except to jump ship), kept an eye
on the truck drivers who were very interested in our students and enjoyed socializing in the ship's lounge. Another
female chaperone and myself were "approached" with an offer to buy our drinks...these guys must have a mother
(grandmother) complex?? Anyways, this was a surprisingly decent way to get to Greece! Best sleep of my trip with
the ship's engines grumbling far below.
Waking to beautiful, misty Greek islands sliding by our port-hole, excitedely waiting for landing with (unfortunately)
60's/70's music blasting in our ears..."Hey, Hey It's the Monkees?! Can't Get No Satisfaction?! Good Vibrations"?! Was
this put on for our benefit? Anyways, landed, onto yet another bus, then onto yet another ferry which took us to
mainland Greece. Much different land from lush and green Italy, more arid and rocky landscape. Clinging to the
coastline with cliffs blasted out for the road, then up, up and up from the coast, switchbacking wildly, to the little
mountain-side town of Delphi. Small town, great views, friendly people, and most importantly Internet connections at
the local Cyber Cafe. Shopping, dining, socializing, sleeping then next morning, Thursday, touring what we thought
was the most wonderful vistas of our trip.
Over 2500 years ago, these ruins were dedicated to Delphi, the virgin oracle of the god Apollo. Once a
month Delphi would sit over a vent from which emanated fumes, she'd go into a trance and mumble predictions for
the future. As one of our chaperones whispered "She was stoned!!" So long ago, a whole culture and town sprang
up around these monthly musings, including temples, spa-like water springs, shopping areas, walls that had Greek
writings on every stone reflecting the event of the day (like a modern day newspaper), shops and houses, a stadium
which celebrated Apollo every 4 years with races and joustings...a precursor to the Olympic Games? Our animated
guide Christina had the students in a trance of their own..they loved these stories! Climbed up Mt. Parnussus to view
the various sites, looking back to the valley far below and actually FELT like we were going back in time! Excellent
tour, beautiful setting. Ah well, on to Athens after a fabulous lunch in a small town..a to-die-for mixed plate of Greek
Impressions of Athens? Huge contrasts of gorgeous archeological sites and a dirty, noisy city. Much was bombed
out in the wars and not much effort was put into reviving everyday buildings. However, the Acropolis with the
Parthenon on top was stunning, now inundated with scaffolding and cranes in preparation for the Summer Olympics
2004. Climbing up the Acropolis you are surrounded by ancient columns, statues, carvings at every twist and trun.
Then, you behold the Parthenon...nothing can prepare you for its immensity..the tour guide tells you that much is now
gone, stolen in raids and now in museums all over the world. It is still a powerful image that takes your breath away!
Of course, another storm threatened while we toured about but we escaped unscathed. Gelato # 4 soothed our
Last night before heading home saw us going to a Greek evening of entertainment and feasting...but wait!!! What's
this?? The bus is stopped by demonstrators and organizers! We must get out and WALK as there is a political rally
(politically correct term for demonstrations by left-wingers) preceding the elections on Sunday. So here we are, a
group of 37 people walking against the flow of thousands of flag-carrying rallyists. Our bus disappears, we nervously
descend into the ultra-modern metro system and speed to our Taverna. Great time there with students and teachers
up on stage with the Greek entertainers, boogying to their hearts delight! Great food, great fun..back for 2 hours
sleep before being woken by Gabriella at 3:30 A.M. to catch our sunrise flight back to Zurich. Tearful goodbyes to
Gabriella who will catch her own flight back to Rome. Students crashing on the plane into sleep (live action camera
in the nose of the plane which allowed us to see both take-off and landing..TOO MUCH INFORMATION for this nervous
flyer!) , then staggering over to the flight to Montreal, 8 hours of snoozing, eating and playing video games, totalling
7600 kms. Welcome home balloons and eager parents, quick goodbyes and...voila...everyone disappears after 9 days
of being close-quartered. Robert and Sue, totally confused in terms of sleep, checked into the nearest hotel, crashed,
then up and on the road, back to PEI 12 hours later and totalling close to 20,000 kms. of GREAT FUN! One thing is for
certain, we will be back to this beautiful area of the world, Italy and Greece...BUT WAIT, isn't that what we said after
our trip to England and Wales 5 years ago? We think we are addicted to travelling!!