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Posts Tagged ‘teenagers traveling’

I’ve been on a bit of a holiday from things: work, home, and, yes, writing. (Actually, I have a summer job, but that’s my fun one and I don’t really consider it work. I enjoy it too much!) I did actually plan to try and write a bit when I was in Italy, but there was just no time, so now I’m jumping back in. I do want to try and finish the novel that I’m working on, at least the unrevised bit of it, this summer, if possible, but first, a blog post. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my trip, but just a few highlights.

I was in bella Italia, beautiful Italy. The flight was long, cramped, and boring, so I’ll spare you the details. We were fortunate enough to immediately get our tour group’s bus from the airport to our hotel in Rome, driven by the talented Carlo, our driver for the week. An Italian motorway gave way to increasingly smaller city streets, passing through buildings covered in graffiti. I thought the graffiti would go away once we got into Rome proper, but that was not so. In fact, it seems the only way to not have graffiti on your building in Rome is to build a locked gate around it, but then the gate will have graffiti. I found it extremely surprising that a city with a heavy tourist population would have so much vandalism. A lot of it is political, but still, graffiti is ugly no matter where you go.

If you don’t look at the graffiti, Rome is beautiful, in a chaotic way. There are no traffic rules. Absolutely none. Seriously, if there are rules, no one is following them. I don’t even know why there are lines on the road. Tiny cars veer in and out from between large trucks and busses while scooters rule any in-between spaces and even sidewalks. Crossing the street almost gave my mother heart attacks, but we followed the advice of our local guide, Elena: “Shoulders back, chest out, don’t look at the drivers, close your eyes, and GO!” She was right. Roman drivers can sense even a small inkling of hesitation and will keep going if you pause before crossing. It’s kind of like being a teacher. Still, everyone seems to take it in stride; it’s the way things are done. And in the midst of all of this chaos, beautiful ruins, thousands of years old, are scattered through the entire city. Public water fountains flow with water from the ancient aqueducts and the Coliseum seems impassive to the tourist busses that rumble by.

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View of Rome

Rome is extremely walkable, as were all of the cities, if one holds their purse close, closed, and zipped. Gypsies, or Romani, are everywhere, selling cheap crap or trying to scam naïve tourists into taking pictures for 5 euro or taking a rose, after which they get very close to you and say, “Give me money.” If one avoids the heavy tourist areas, or just flat out ignores them, it’s not a problem, just annoying. In the areas by our hotels, we walked around quite comfortably and safely, even at night.

Vatican City was amazing. Although Oldest Child had immediately given me his copy of The DaVinci Code as soon as I decided to go to Italy (as an inspiration to sneak into the private collections), the amount of historical treasures that were actually on display was dumbfounding. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and priceless works of art are all on display, no need to go hunting behind the scenes. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming and brought me to tears with the sheer passion of the work painted not only on the ceiling, but the walls. Silence is enforced there and prayers are said. Michelangelo’s most famous Pieta (he carved several) is on display in St. Peter’s Basillica, more beautiful than I had ever dreamed. I got to be inside of St. Peter’s Square, a place that we watch on Christmas Eve and Easter every year, jammed to the gills with people. It was nowhere near as full as it is for those holidays, but it is an immense area. I’m not Catholic, but I could have spent days in the Vatican.

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St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

We took a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, the town that was buried by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The amount of work that has been done and how much of the original town has been uncovered is astounding. Private homes, shops, wells, and, yes, brothels, are all still there, some looking as if their owners could come back at any moment. Our guide, Enrico, took us everywhere that he could, throwing in as much humorous information as possible and making sure our group saw all of the important things. There is actually a lot more of Pompeii that remains buried, but Enrico seemed confident that it would stay covered. The expense would be just too great and the important buildings had already been excavated. Still, walking the same streets that were once a real place, not a tourist attraction, was humbling and eerie. There were three casts of victims on display: a baby, a man and a dog. Even though they were only the molds of those unfortunates, the bodies have long since decayed, it was emotional to see the horrified expressions still evident after all this time. If I had to choose one word to describe Pompeii, it would be “haunting”.

After three days, we bid a fond “arrivederci” to Rome and moved on to Florence for a change of pace, but once we got there, our pathway to the leather factory we were to tour was blocked by a medieval football game. Apparently, it’s a really big deal there and gets quite rough. One of the most famous squares, or piazzi, was completely blocked off and there was a huge police presence, which our tour director sweet-talked us through. To make a long story short, we did get past the (fun) craziness and got to our wine-tasting, pizza dinner and leather tour on time.

We had a lot of free time to explore in Florence but also got to take a day trip to see the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, both nestled high in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Both have kept most of their medieval buildings and are, rightfully, very proud of them. We quite happily wound our way through the ancient streets, admiring both buildings and landscapes alike. Both of those towns are places where I would gladly go back and spend a lot more time exploring more of what they have to offer.

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City wall of San Gimignano

Venice was next, after a quick stop in Verona to see “Juliet’s balcony”. (FYI, Juliet was a fictional character. The play, by William Shakespeare, was based on warring political families in Verona at the time, but it remains a work of fiction.) Venice was stunning at first glance and remained so throughout the time we spent there. During the daytime hours, there were throngs of tourists to elbow through, and some particularly despicable Gypsies, but there were no scooters threatening to kill us, no busses to dodge, just water taxis and gondolas gliding up and down the narrow canals between homes and churches. In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, Venice is peaceful and breathtaking. Our hotel was across a large canal from Piazza San Marco, so we had to take a water taxi back and forth, an experience in itself. When it came time to go to the airport, we went by water taxi. It was fabulous!.

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Venice

The best part of Venice, however, was that I got to meet my friend, Sabrina, for the first time. We had started communicating almost a year ago online and she was able to meet my mom and me there. We had a wonderful afternoon, just walking around, talking, and getting to know each other. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet up again in a couple of years, perhaps in London. The sooner, the better!

I was given a great gift in this trip, and I have my mother to thank for that. My world was expanded, my appreciation and respect for another culture increased, and I found that while I’m not even close to being fluent in speaking Italian, I am a fairly functional tourist. My next trip isn’t quite in the works yet, we are sending Oldest Child to college next month, after all, but I’m looking forward to what ever adventure comes my way

Ciao!

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In a few days, Oldest Child is leaving for Europe. He’ll be gone for nine days in France and Spain, accompanied by 30 other students, many of them his good friends, and five teachers. He’s excited, of course, and so am I. It’s kind of surprising how many people I’ve mentioned it to on the last year who have reacted differently, that they wouldn’t let their child go unless they were with them, or that they wouldn’t let them go at all. I disagree, wholeheartedly.

When I was younger than Oldest Child, I went halfway around the world to Australia and Hawaii with my best friend, Jenny. We both auditioned for and were accepted into the Michigan Lions All-State Band, which was sponsored by the Lions Club, an international service organization. The band went wherever the conference was held each year. Sometimes, it was in places closer to home, such as Colorado, but that year it was in Brisbane, Australia. We had to play several concerts in Brisbane, Sydney, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, to represent the organization.

It was an amazing experience. After a 24- hour plane ride, not including layovers in Chicago, San Diego, Auckland, and Sydney, we finally got to Brisbane. I won’t go into great detail, but Australia was awesome. We pet kangaroos, held koalas, and smushed giant cockroaches on our walls with extra bricks in the school dormitory where we were staying. After five days in Brisbane, we moved on to a haunted hotel room in Sydney. The shower turned on and off by itself and there was a bullet hole in one of our walls. Ladies of the night frequented the sidewalk outside the hotel (prostitution is legal there) and we were not allowed to go outside by ourselves. Downtown Sydney was beautiful, though. We were free to wander for a few hours at a time and learned all sorts of wonderful cultural differences in between performances. Apparently, it’s normal to put beets on hamburgers there.

The rules were very strict. To break a rule meant a one-way ticket back home. We were a pretty well-behaved bunch of high school kids and there weren’t any mishaps. Jenny and I had a small, accidental snafu, but it all ended up well and it’s something to laugh about today. Perhaps I should explain…

To get around Oahu, we used the bus system. One night, we wanted to go to the Hard Rock Café. The Hard Rock Café, no matter where it was, was a pretty cool thing back then and we had already gotten shirts from the one in Sydney. The hotel told us to take the No. 2 bus there and back. We got there just fine, enjoyed our outrageously expensive hamburgers, and then jumped on the next No. 2 bus to get back to our hotel. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. We soon found out that there is a red-light district in Honolulu and since we were at the end of the bus line, the driver made us get off the bus right in the middle of it. To make matters worse, I was wearing an oh-so-cool T-shirt that proclaimed, “I got lei-d in Hawaii”. When we were being kicked off the bus, I promptly burst into tears while Jenny laughed hysterically. I was certain we were going to be given a one-way ticket home and that my mother would never let me out of the house unsupervised ever again, but Jen saw the funny side of it.

To make a long story short, we could actually see our hotel from where we were and figured that we could probably get there in the two hours we had left before curfew. We started walking, fast, and it wasn’t long before we came upon another bus stop with a bus arriving. It took us very close to our hotel and we were back in our hotel room almost two hours before curfew. Not wanting to tempt fate again, we stayed in the rest of the night, and were quite content to do so.

Anyway, even with our small adventure, it was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I met new friends, learned about other cultures (Hawaii is awesome), and got the itch to travel to other places. It’s everything I hope will happen to Oldest Child and his friends in the next couple of weeks. He’s always wanted to go somewhere far away. like this, but hasn’t had the chance yet. In response to the concerned parents, yes, bad things sometimes happen. One only needs to watch the news to know that, but bad things can happen at home, too. I would rather travel and see the world than stay at home hiding under a blanket of ignorance. See the world, learn about people other than Americans, get some culture.

I’m going to Italy in June, my first trip to a place where English is not the dominant language, and I’m excited, not only for me, but for Oldest Child. I know he may have his own snafu, but it will be one that he will remember forever.

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In a few days, Oldest Child is leaving for Europe. He’ll be gone for nine days in France and Spain, accompanied by 30 other students, many of them his good friends, and five teachers. He’s excited, of course, and so am I. It’s kind of surprising how many people I’ve mentioned it to on the last year who have reacted differently, that they wouldn’t let their child go unless they were with them, or that they wouldn’t let them go at all. I disagree, wholeheartedly.

When I was younger than Oldest Child, I went halfway around the world to Australia and Hawaii with my best friend, Jenny. We both auditioned for and were accepted into the Michigan Lions All-State Band, which was sponsored by the Lions Club, an international service organization. The band went wherever the conference was held each year. Sometimes, it was in places closer to home, such as Colorado, but that year it was in Brisbane, Australia. We had to play several concerts in Brisbane, Sydney, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, to represent the organization.

It was an amazing experience. After a 24- hour plane ride, not including layovers in Chicago, San Diego, Auckland, and Sydney, we finally got to Brisbane. I won’t go into great detail, but Australia was awesome. We pet kangaroos, held koalas, and smushed giant cockroaches on our walls with extra bricks in the school dormitory where we were staying. After five days in Brisbane, we moved on to a haunted hotel room in Sydney. The shower turned on and off by itself and there was a bullet hole in one of our walls. Ladies of the night frequented the sidewalk outside the hotel (prostitution is legal there) and we were not allowed to go outside by ourselves. Downtown Sydney was beautiful, though. We were free to wander for a few hours at a time and learned all sorts of wonderful cultural differences in between performances. Apparently, it’s normal to put beets on hamburgers there.

The rules were very strict. To break a rule meant a one-way ticket back home. We were a pretty well-behaved bunch of high school kids and there weren’t any mishaps. Jenny and I had a small, accidental snafu, but it all ended up well and it’s something to laugh about today. Perhaps I should explain…

To get around Oahu, we used the bus system. One night, we wanted to go to the Hard Rock Café. The Hard Rock Café, no matter where it was, was a pretty cool thing back then and we had already gotten shirts from the one in Sydney. The hotel told us to take the No. 2 bus there and back. We got there just fine, enjoyed our outrageously expensive hamburgers, and then jumped on the next No. 2 bus to get back to our hotel. Well, it didn’t quite work that way. We soon found out that there is a red-light district in Honolulu and since we were at the end of the bus line, the driver made us get off the bus right in the middle of it. To make matters worse, I was wearing an oh-so-cool T-shirt that proclaimed, “I got lei-d in Hawaii”. When we were being kicked off the bus, I promptly burst into tears while Jenny laughed hysterically. I was certain we were going to be given a one-way ticket home and that my mother would never let me out of the house unsupervised ever again, but Jen saw the funny side of it.

To make a long story short, we could actually see our hotel from where we were and figured that we could probably get there in the two hours we had left before curfew. We started walking, fast, and it wasn’t long before we came upon another bus stop with a bus arriving. It took us very close to our hotel and we were back in our hotel room almost two hours before curfew. Not wanting to risk fat again, we stayed in the rest of the night and were quite content to do so.

Anyway, even with our small adventure, it was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I met new friends, learned about other cultures (Hawaii is awesome), and got the itch to travel to other places. It’s everything I hope will happen to Oldest Child and his friends in the next couple of weeks. He’s always wanted to go somewhere far away. like this, but hasn’t had the chance yet. In response to the concerned parents, yes, bad things sometimes happen. One only needs to watch the news to know that, but bad things can happen at home, too. I would rather travel and see the world when I can than stay at home hiding under a blanket of ignorance. See the world, learn about people other than Americans, get some culture.

I’m going to Italy in June, my first trip to a place where English is not the dominant language, and I’m excited, not only for me, but for Oldest Child. I know he may have his own snafu, but it will be one that he will remember forever.

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