I started writing this as kind of a sugar-coated account of this journey. On this trip, I went to Rome and Athens as a chaperone for 36 students from the school at which I teach. And in my first draft about this trip, I talked about where I went and what I did but kind of glossed over how I really felt about certain elements of the trip, mostly because for a couple of days, they weren’t super pleasant experiences for me. And at the end of the day, there’s really no point in me writing these posts if I’m not capturing how I felt about my experiences. I’ll remember where I went and what I did. I’ve got plenty of pictures. So even though this trip had some rocky moments, I’m still going to write this true to how I felt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I had some amazing experiences on this trip, just as I did with any of my past adventures. And really, the moments where I struggled helped me realize some things about myself, as well as grow as a person and a traveler. This trip was a gift, in that I didn’t have to pay for it financially, rather I paid with the work that it took to arrange it, and in the responsibility of making sure all 36 kids made it to Europe and back without any scratches. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity, but as I’ve forewarned you, it didn’t come without its struggles.
We started our journey with a bus ride from New Hampshire to Boston. By that point, I had survived a full school day, not to mention spirit week, during which I stayed after school every day helping the freshmen class organize their Pep Rally skit, poster, and dance. I was also battling a mini-flu and an ear infection, which I had to get last minute clearance from the doctor before boarding a plane. I was basically held together by duct tape by the time 3:00pm rolled around, but regardless, I had my luggage, passport, and a prayer to get myself to Rome in one piece.
After the day had ended, we gathered in the front lobby of the school and had the kids say tearful goodbyes to their parents. For many of the students, this was their first time to Europe. For a handful, this would be their first time on a plane. I felt honored to be involved in their first travels, escorting them to another continent like some ambassador to adventure. They were certainly excited, and some of their parents were nervous wrecks, understandably.
After a hop down to Boston, we made our way through security. I was an absolute dingus and forgot to take my Swiss Army knife off my keyring and had it confiscated by security. For the record, I have brought that thing unchecked on a plane before. I’m not sure if the rule got changed, or if they just never found it. Now, this was my favorite souvenir I’ve ever purchased. I got it in Lucerne, Switzerland. My last name was engraved on it. I used it all the time. And they just took it. I asked if it could be set aside to be picked up by anyone or mailed somewhere, and they were not helpful. After my mom called, they said that anything confiscated at security was “thrown away,” so likely some lucky security guard has run off with my favorite multi-tool thanks to my poor judgment. I’d be more furious if I wasn’t going to Lucerne again this summer, where I will be purchasing another one in spite. But still. That security guard was an unhelpful jerk.
After a light dinner and some dawdling around the international terminal, we made our way onto our flight with seven chaperones, five paid adults, and 36 children. HB, meet Lufthansa. By 9pm we were in the air and on our way to our layover at the Munich Airport.
Despite many tries and many hours watching Olympic figure skating on Lufthansa’s live tv connection, neither Jen, nor I, nor very many of the individuals in our group were able to catch much sleep. But after a layover in Munich, a coffee, and some well-deserved Kinder Eggs, we were on our way to Rome, with or without rest. Luckily everyone was fueled by pure adrenaline, so despite our sleep deprivation, we were good to go.
Once we disembarked in Rome, we met our tour guide, Jacqueline, who would be with us for the next week. She was sassy and knowledgeable, which is the right kind of person you want to have lead you across Europe. Conveniently, she also lives in Rome with her husband when she is not leading tours, so she had a wealth of knowledge about the city. It also helped that she spoke six languages and had many years of experience all around Europe. We were off to a great start.
Well, kind of. The forecast for the week pointed to rain in Rome, and right off the bat, we were caught in a downpour. It was less than ideal, but we soldiered on.
The only thing really on the agenda for the day we arrived was to get our bearings in the city, see the Spanish Steps, eat some dinner, and go to bed, which was good, considering after having a mini-flu the week before the trip and sleep deprivation from the night before, and only being able to hear out of half of my head, that’s about all I could manage; and even then, I was in zombie mode. It was also raining pretty hard, so outdoor activities were less than fun at that point. When walking down the Spanish Steps, I had to concentrate really hard not to slip and fall on the marble surfaces, which were inconveniently angled to a slope. It was a recipe for death, but I survived.
After a few photos in the Old City and at the Spanish Steps, we made our way to dinner in a café, which really looked more like an American diner than an Italian bistro. Before we were even fully seated, Becky (HB’s AP Psych teacher) tried to use the restroom and was nearly assaulted by a crazy lady who screamed at her and tried to stab her with an umbrella. She yelled a few obscenities and all of the kids in the restaurant went wide-eyed. We were never really sure what was wrong with her, but at least no one got stabbed. So that was a fun way to start dinner.
Other than that, dinner was pretty uneventful. We had pasta with crème sauce and mushrooms, which I really liked, and some weird salad that came with tuna on it, which was a weird combination of textures that I didn’t enjoy. And then for dessert we had some kind of layered…pastry? Or was it a cake? I don’t remember, I just know it had chocolate on it and was pretty decent.
After dragging ourselves out of the restaurant and back onto the bus, we were en route to the hotel. Having functioned for more than 30 hours without sleep, pretty much the whole crew went silent as soon as the hotel room doors were closed.
Now, okay, disclaimer, this is the day where I start to sound like a bit of a grumpy gills. Italy and I just don’t get along. I don’t know what it is. The history isn’t thrilling to me, Renaissance art is not the thing I geek out about, nor are the crumbling ruins of past civilizations, and I don’t find the culture super charming. Plus I’ve been to most of the sites before, so it’s hard to get giddy and excited about something twice. Don’t worry, I’m not a negative Nancy for the whole trip, it’s really just this first full day and then it gets better. Just wait till I get to Greece.
So what was kind of weird about this day was that I’d been to Rome six years ago and had seen all the obligatory sites. Coliseum, Vatican, Circus Maximus, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps: check check check check. And I wasn’t particularly keen on them the first time. I’d even told a bunch of students that I found the Vatican overrated. Well then I felt really bad, because when we went to the Sistine Chapel, half of the tour started sobbing, moved by the beauty of the room. They’d seen the paintings in pictures, they knew its history, and just making it there made them so emotional they couldn’t handle it. And I felt absolutely nothing emotionally towards the room, just as I had the first time.
So I felt like a weird jerk.
I kind of slipped into an identity crisis. What did this say about me as a person? As a history teacher, and someone who is meant to be the ambassador of knowledge and culture and important events if I am bored in the Sistine Chapel? Now, again, yes, I’d been there before, but even then, I hadn’t been charmed by it. Questions started assaulting my brain. “Should I be a history teacher if I don’t care about this room? Do I truly love travel as much as I say I do if I don’t feel giddy in the streets of Rome, one of the world’s oldest and most famed cities? Am I broken? Can other people tell I’m not enjoying myself? Am I ruining anyone’s trip?” I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into this pit of self-doubt, and it didn’t feel good. I was surrounded by people who were having the times of their lives and I felt like I was going to spend my whole week as a dark cloud blocking the sunshine. And that thought just made me feel guilty.
I felt a little bit better in St. Peter’s Basilica, just because it’s a really gorgeous building. We saw the Pieta, Michelangelo’s masterpiece sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, which really is amazing to think it started off as one hunk of solid marble. Plus the mosaics are so realistic they look like paintings, and there are dead popes on display, so all and all, cool building. But I was still feeling under-stimulated. I’m used to trips where you see a thing, then do a thing, then see a thing, then do a thing, and in Rome, really the only thing you do is see. I continued to feel like a dark cloud.
It was the same in the Coliseum, and again in the Roman Forums. But we at least had some free time to walk around and take some cheesy social studies department photos. In the forums I kept asking Trevor, one of our Civics teachers, if he could “smell the democracy.” He was in heaven.
Finally, after a long day of trooping through rain, we had some free time to walk around. There was only one thing in our sights: gelato. We’d been in Rome two days and hadn’t had any yet, which was a travesty. And if there is one thing in existence that can brighten anyone’s mood, it’s ice cream, in whatever form it takes. It took us nearly a half an hour to find a gelato shop, but once we did, I was less cranky. You can’t be cranky with ice cream.
After that little adventure, it was time to troop off to dinner. Tonight’s restaurant was a modern affair with neon lights and funky music videos that played while we ate. For our meal we had lasagna, which was okay, though in my opinion it needed more cheese and sauce. It kind of tasted like straight pasta. But what I will say is that for dessert, we had tiramisu, and for the FIRST time, I actually enjoyed it, instead of crossing my fingers and hoping to like it and then being disappointed. It didn’t taste like straight rum and coffee, it was more of mousse and cake. Which, I mean, if you’re a real tiramisu fan, you’d probably have been disappointed, but I was happy with it, because I don’t like rum and coffee on my cake.
After dinner, despite the fact that we’d spent our whole day walking, we realized that we only had one opportunity to see the Trevi fountain. So even though we were exhausted, we walked fifteen minutes back into the bowels of the city to see it. Now, once we got there, it was worth it. It really is pretty at night. The kids all took pictures. We even witnessed a proposal, which was super cute. According to legend, if you throw three coins over your shoulder into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome. So most of the people on tour did that. Considering I’d already done that once (and clearly it worked,) I snarkily asked how many coins I had to throw to get to Turkey instead, and then threw in one American penny. We’ll see if that did anything.
Our next adventure was to embark on an excursion to Pompeii, site of a Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Besides from the actual excitement of witnessing the town destroyed by a natural disaster, this place was also one of the best preserved examples of ancient Roman life. Thanks, volcanic ash! I’d also never been there before, so hitting up a new site was hopefully just what I needed to get myself out of my funk.
On the way down to the site, we sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the boys on the trip, who was celebrating his sixteenth. Jacqueline emphasized this celebration by announcing jubilantly on the microphone, “ah sweet sixteen, never been kissed, never been loved!” which caused an eruption of teenage laughter and twelve shades of red on the poor birthday boy’s face.
We drove three hours outside the city, stopping at an Italian rest stop. All the kids were super excited to peruse the establishment, which, of course, was nicer than any rest stop along I-93. I also scored an espresso from Matt, our Latin teacher, who had ordered a “double espresso” and been given just two espressos in different cups. A win for me! Who doesn’t love caffeine?
Before we made it to the archaeological site, we stopped at a gift shop that specialized in cameos and other fine jewelry and souvenirs. Considering I already have a cameo ring (which is arguably my favorite item of jewelry), I thankfully wasn’t coaxed into buying another. I’m saving my money for later trips. There were other cool oddities in the store though. Bronze statuettes of Roman gods and goddesses, replica vases, and my favorite item in the store: a ceramic model of that painting with the dogs playing poker. I kept trying to get someone to buy it, but was unsuccessful. On the flipside, my male students were hard at work trying to convince me to buy a sword to assert my authority in the classroom. I won’t lie, I thought about it. Who’s gonna cross the teacher with the sword?
Our next stop was lunch at the hotel right next door to Pompeii. Before we got our food, we were serenaded by a lively Italian man with a guitar. This guy was weird. First of all, he broke a string pretty much right off the bat, but kept playing. He also got uncomfortably close to both me and Trevor, and apparently at one point, we were both making the same “please take my euro and go away” face. He was pretty obnoxious. But we all still tipped him.
Lunch for most of us was pizza, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it. It was just margherita: pizza- crust, sauce, and cheese, but the sauce was really sweet and the crust felt more like pita bread. Stay tuned though; there is a later pizza victory to announce later.
I went to the bathroom and when I came back, all the “real adults” were talking about housing prices, so I ditched them to hang out with a table of female students. We had a good time digesting the trip so far, making fun of some of the boys and their ability to wear every color of the khaki rainbow. We also got ice cream as a dessert, but it all came in different sized bowls, so while some people got a cup of ice cream, me and one other girl were given like a tablespoon of it. It was upsetting.
From there, we embarked to the archaeological site of Pompeii and met up with our local guide, Fabbio, who was as adorable as he was Italian. With a name like Fabbio, you can guess just how Italian he was.
Okay, Pompeii. First of all, I did not realize just how big this site was. I was expecting to see a handful of dilapidated buildings, similar to those from the Roman Forum. But this place was HUGE. The main street of the town went on for a mile, until you couldn’t see the end of it on the horizon. Some of the buildings that remained were fully intact, and others that were partially destroyed still left enough hints of their original purposes: ovens of bakeries, shelving for granaries, so on and so forth.
Probably the most famous thing we saw in Pompeii were the moldings of bodies in their last moments before being covered in ash. Basically while excavating, when the archaeologists would find human remains, they were able to inject plaster into the chasm where the body was buried, creating a cast of that person. This allowed them to basically capture their body, and within the cast were the in-tact remains of that person: skeleton, etc. It was really scary to see those castings, because they basically showed a human suffering as they were buried under the eruption. Most of them showed people covering their faces, trying to shield themselves from the ash. It was really tragic to see how these people met their end.
From the tragic images of people running for their lives, the tone of the day took a major turn as we headed for our next destination: Pompeii’s “red light district.” It was really easy to find, considering the whole archaeological site was plastered with arrows that sent you in its direction, in case you were visiting and couldn’t speak the local language. Except instead of arrows, well, they used phallic symbols to show you the way. Like, really obvious ones. There was no mistaking them for anything else. Ancient Rome, everyone. We visited a brothel, with all kinds of little rooms for…doing adult things. The rooms were tiny with marble slabs in each one for whatever purpose you desired. There was also a “menu” on the wall with pictures of the type of activities the brother’s clients could choose from. Words cannot express the wide eyes of my students after we strolled through this part of the tour. Their reaction was just as priceless as the experience.
Probably the most impressive building we explored was the public bath. It looked quite a bit like today’s gym locker room with high ceilings and two giant baths, one for hot water, and one for cold water. They came fixed with plumbing systems in which slaves would pour hot or cold water through pipes that would be carried into the baths themselves. They were even decorated with intricate frescoes. It was really neat.
And of course, looming in the distance was Mount Vesuvius itself, the culprit of the natural disaster that destroyed the town in the first place. Supposedly it’s due to erupt again, and who knows how bad it’ll be. Naples isn’t too far away, hopefully they won’t be the next archeological visit for the tourists in a thousand years.
On our way out of the site, we passed by a very large statue of a naked man (just in case we hadn’t seen enough naked man statues in our tour of Italy). One of our students kept running up to other kids on the tour and saying, “You might say that he’s sculpted,” before giggling and making the same bad joke to another person. It was pretty cute.
After saying goodbye to Fabbio, we bid farewell to Pompeii and reboarded the bus back to the hotel in Rome. I was feeling a bit better emotionally, until I started feeling carsick on the drive. But, once we got back and had a bit of dinner at a cozy Italian bistro with Jen, Trevor, and Matt, sharing travel stories and history geekdom, I was starting to feel more myself again. Maybe it was because I’d finally adjusted my sleep clock, maybe it was because I felt a part of the community, or maybe it was just because the pasta was really good.
It was our last morning in Rome, and we had a few more stops before hopping our afternoon flight to Greece! Yay, a new country! But we still had some stuff to see in Rome before hopping the plane. And to make the day even more exciting, overnight, Italy’s capital had been coated in a delicate blanket of snow, which is a rarity. So, even though a lot of our students came prepared for the warm Mediterranean climate (and were wearing sneakers, despite our warnings to bring waterproof shoes), we were lucky enough to see Rome under cover of snow.
We started our day at St. Paul’s Basilica. We arrived before it was open to our tour, which allowed time for a few of our boys to have a snowball fight. It’s not ever day you get to witness a snowball fight in the shadow of a grand historical site, but we did.
Eventually we made our way into the church, which was just massive and glittering and beautiful. I’d never been inside this one before, and it was pretty impressive. We were also the only group inside, which was really nice, considering we’d spent most of our tour surrounded by crowds. You could hear a pin drop inside, echoing off of the high, arched ceilings. The whole place was decorated with mosaic depictions of every pope since Peter. The mosaics were incredibly detailed, and one of my students was swearing that the one depicting Pope Francis was a photograph because of its detail. It really did look like him.
Our next stop was the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, located atop a hill in Vatican City. These catacombs are a big deal in world history, considering that Christians followed the Jewish tradition of burying their dead while those still following the pagan religions of Ancient Rome were persecuting anyone found out to be Christian. So these intricate tombs depicted a lot of ancient Christian icons that were basically not allowed to be depicted above ground. There were no remains to be seen, just tombs, because apparently tourists had disturbed the bones in the past and therefore those areas where remains could be seen were roped off. Stupid tourists, ruining the fun for the rest of us.
Our last activity was some free time to pop into the Pantheon and get some lunch. The Pantheon is neat but not somewhere you need to spend a bunch of time. It’s cool to see the spaces where the pagan gods once had statues and shrines, and how they’ve been replaced by Christian icons. It’s a Continuity and Change Over Time essay waiting to happen. (That’s a joke for AP history teachers and like nobody else).
After that, the “adults” popped into the back room of a seemingly underwhelming restaurant to find a charming alcove with long tables so we could enjoy a quiet lunch without the kids. Jen and I split a four cheese and mushroom pizza that was divine. We scarfed down every bite, and I would have eaten another whole one if given the opportunity, it was so good.
And of course, for dessert, it was time to scout out one more helping of gelato. We made our way to the gelateria famous for serving 150 flavors. The whole place smelled like waffle cones and was bright and colorful and looked like what ice cream dreams were made out of. I got a scoop of Kinder Egg and mascarpone gelato in a chocolate cone and it was amazing. We ran into a bunch of kids inside, who were also getting their last gelato before leaving Italy behind us. We compared flavors and gave reviews, and a bunch of them tried to hop into our photos. They’re cute sometimes.
From there, we traipsed off to the airport, bidding farewell to our Italian bus driver, Jon-Franco, who had navigated us through the ancient and narrow streets of Rome (and who had almost collided with a few pedestrians, but apparently that’s okay).
After fighting our way through the wormhole that is the Roman Airport, named after renowned genius, Leonardo Da Vinci, but certainly not designed by him, we crammed ourselves onto the plane and set off for Athens.
After a flight that seemed like nothing in comparison to the long ones we’d already endured, (and an ear-pop that allowed my 50% hearing to reach about 75%–a huge victory!) we touched down in Athens and gathered ourselves onto a new bus with a new driver, Andreas, whose long flowing hair was only rivaled by that of the pagan gods of Ancient Greece. When we reached the bus, we realized that about half the group had straggled behind, and soon after we realized it was because three people had lost their luggage. Two female students and Bob, our assistant principal. Greece was off to a rough start.
They soon joined us back on the bus, empty handed, with the news that their luggage would join us the next day. In the meantime, we trooped to our hotel, had dinner at the buffet restaurant downstairs, and unloaded into our rooms.
After we’d settled in, I joined Jacqueline on an adventure to find our girls some toothbrushes to hold them over until their bags made their way back to their possession. So, my first adventure in Greece was a stroll down the streets of Glyfada, a suburb of Athens, along palm-treed streets and past local shops and businesses, to buy two toothbrushes at 9:30pm. Jacqueline and I had some fun chats about travel. She apparently had worked with Contiki in the past, so I told her about some of my old trips, and she shared with me some fun games she used to play when she was a Contiki guide. It’s definitely a different kind of tour than EF!
I delivered the toothbrushes to the girls and headed up to my room with Jen. It was small but nice, with a balcony from which you could see just a sliver of the Aegean Sea, but that sliver was lovely! By comparison, our students were crammed into rooms that were the same size, with two beds and two cots on either side of the beds, leaving next to no room for luggage. According to one of my girls, “This is a fire hazard!” It probably is, but eh, it’s fine. We’re in Greece! Who cares about safety?
We had gone to bed close to midnight the night before, much later than we’d been hitting the hay in days past. But we still had a 6:30 wakeup call, just like any other morning. After breakfast at the hotel (and the only spanakopita we had on the trip—unfortunately) we boarded the bus and headed into the city.
We had a bit of a drive, as we hit the road just in time for rush hour. It was a pretty drive at least. The stretch from Glyfada to central Athens was reminiscent of a beach town drive. It looked kind of like Miami. Modern condo-style buildings and coffee shops with clean lines and glass facades. We were also greeted by blue skies and sunshine—the first we’d seen in days! Greece was feeling so gorgeous and welcoming, my black cloud mood was fading away and instead I was feeling myself again. Thank you, Greek sunshine.
The first story Jacqueline told us was about the stray dogs in Athens. Apparently they’d had a really bad issue with stray dogs in the past, and just before the Olympics in 2004, the mayor at the time had basically passed a plan to euthanize a whole bunch of them. But this prompted the shopkeepers in the city to basically adopt a bunch of them unofficially, laying out water and food, having them fixed, giving them a place to go when it rains, etc. So basically now, there are still strays, but they’ve at least been taken care of. It melts my heart. And when we made our first stop, at the first Olympic Stadium built in 1896, our kids immediately found a dog and started petting him. He was thrilled.
From there we picked up our guide. Now, this lady I’m sure is a wealth of knowledge and experience who is a great tour guide in certain situations. But she was a poor match for our rambunctious teenagers. Pretty much as soon as she started talking about the various monuments in the city, everyone on the bus fell asleep. I mean, it was also poor timing considering they’d had their latest night in recent memory, but also she was a less-than-enthralling presence.
We arrived soon at the base of the Acropolis, the hill famous for housing the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, for whom the city was named. After petting yet another stray dog, who was happy to get attention from the kids on our tour, we began to ascend the marble steps to the top of the hill. Now, this place was absolutely magnificent. I don’t know that it would have been nearly as cool without the beautiful day we were having, but to see the marble columns dedicated to the goddess standing out against the perfect blue sky with the sun shining down upon it, it felt like we were meeting Athena herself. It was absolutely divine. It was also guarded by a stray cat who was acting like she was also a goddess. The girls on our tour kept taking pictures of her and feeding her jerky while she looked up at them like she deserved this holy treatment.
Now, unfortunately, we kept getting stopped every ten feet by our guide, who was yammering on about the different styles of columns and Greek roots of English words and other stuff that I started to tune out at various points because of how boring it was. Our high schoolers were restless. Eventually Jen had to go over to her and ask her to wrap it up so the kids could go take pictures because we were running out of time.
And that was necessary, because we still got to the base of the mountain fifteen minutes later than we had intended. Which means we only had a short period of time to look at souvenirs and get lunch. But the adults were scooped under the wing of Jacqueline, who knew just where to take us with limited time on the clock.
We left the Acropolis in our wake and made our way into Plaka, a neighborhood at the base of the hill that had a trendy, village feel, which was quiet and refreshing. Even as we began to stroll down the cobblestone streets, I heard one of my students say, “Dude, this place has a vibe,” and it really did. There were salesmen on the streets, a guy blowing giant bubbles, and a bunch of young adults dancing to hip hop music. One of our students broke off from our group to dance battle them and left them all applauding. It was a vibe, indeed.
Soon the kids broke off and did their own thing for lunch while we were guided by Jacqueline down the street to this charming café tucked behind a courtyard surrounded by beautiful trees and soundtracked by songbirds. This place looked surreal. We only had about thirty minutes to order and eat, so we only had a few minutes in paradise, but we took advantage of the peace. We all got salads for lunch, and also sampled fresh bread with tzatziki sauce, which tasted unreal. Furthermore, the ingredients of the salad tasted like they’d just been plucked from the ground 30 seconds ago.
After leaving behind our cozy lunch spot, we met up with the students in front of the Acropolis museum. Their admission was included as part of the tour, but we knew that it was going to be difficult to keep them inside for two hours when it was such a beautiful day. So we let them know that it was allowed for them to walk around Plaka when they were done so long as they were back at the meeting spot for 3pm. And then, after a brief visit to the museum ourselves, Jen and I also left behind the museum to walk around the neighborhood.
Now, I know souvenir shopping with me is a nightmare because once I have an idea of what I want, I will not settle for anything less. And I came to Greece wanting gold earrings, because I have a million gold necklaces and no gold posts to wear with them. Well, it turns out that the streets of Athens had PLENTY of choices for silver earrings, but there was a search for gold. Luckily, after stumbling into many a souvenir shop, I eventually did find some gold-and-teal “evil eye” earrings that, according to legend, will keep evil spirits at bay. Thank god. Jen bought a pair of rose gold ones as well, so now we get to match. I also bought some goats’ milk soap, because I can’t go on a trip that involves a suitcase and come back without some kind of bath product. I have a problem.
I also got mini-flag number 15 to put up on the wall in my classroom! Yay Greece!
We met up with the students and then made our way to the Greek Dance Lesson, which, was an EXPERIENCE. Not because the dancing itself was so fun, but because I got to witness my adorable little male students completely fail at trying to dance. These dances were not rocket science. It’s mostly hand holding and stepping in a circle. But if you were to watch my kids try to do it, you would think they were attempting Nutcracker-level ballet. At one point I was next to one boy who was managing fairly well, but yelling at his friend who without fail was stepping in the wrong direction every time. At one point the dance teacher went over to a cluster of boys and said, “What happened over here?” because they were clumped up in a knot rather than in a circle. God it was hilarious. Jen opted out, but got plenty of video evidence, so now I have plenty of blackmail if I ever need it.
We had a bit of free time before dinner at the hotel, so rather than going straight back, we took a walk around Glyfada. The first stop was at an orthodox church conveniently located near our hotel. It was small but very ornate, and looked really Byzantine, evidenced by the rounded roofs. We popped in briefly, because they were holding a service, but it was absolutely gorgeous inside. The whole place smelled like incense and was draped with dark colors. I would have stayed longer but didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I took a quick peek and then hopped back outside.
While the kids went souvenir shopping, the adults once again followed Jacqueline on an adventure to a local restaurant for gyros. She basically hinted to us that we’d have better food there than we would at dinner at the hotel, and we took our word for it, each purchasing a gyro, souvlaki kabob, and a soda for shy of 6 euros, arguably the cheapest meal we’d had since arriving in Europe. Okay, so, I’d never had a gyro before, and I was floored with how delicious it was. Puffy bread wrapped around tzatziki, red onion, pork, and FRENCH FRIES. They put FRENCH FRIES on the sandwich, guys. I may not have had an emotional experience at the Sistine Chapel, but I had a religious experience eating this gyro. Good god it was delicious.
And oh, the food experiences don’t end there. Jen and I went on an adventure to find a bakery so we could get some baklava. We found a place, bought six pieces, and brought them back to the café to share them with our teacher friends. They went pretty fast, and yes, as you can imagine, baklava made right from the source is quite amazing.
Of course, now that we’d eaten a three-course meal, it was time for dinner at the hotel. I had the intention of passing on food, considering I was full, but then Jacqueline pointed out that dessert was Greek Yogurt with nuts, raisins, and honey. I didn’t know this, but Greece is famous for a handful of things: olive oil, yogurt, and honey. So, to try out two of the three, I went over to the buffet and got a healthy helping of “dessert.” It was so good, I went back for a second helping. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. I now have the intention to put honey and raisins on my yogurt forever, and put honey on my souvenir list before I left the country. With in an hour, I’d had so many food discoveries that I was ready to drop into a very satisfying food coma.
This was our last real day of fun, considering Day 8 would involve about 12 hours of air travel. But it was arguably one of the best days of the trip, so it was good to go out with a bang.
After breakfast (during which I ate more yogurt slathered with honey) we all hopped aboard the bus towards Delphi, an archaeological site steeped in both history and mythology. I was excited for this one. The bus ride was going to take 3 and a half hours, but that was fine. At one point we turned around and literally all but like 3 students were asleep. It was really cute.
We stopped a couple times, once for a bathroom and snack stop, and again for a photo-op in the windy hills. We were now in the mountainous region of Greece, and again were greeted by a sunny, blue-sky day. It was a pretty drive, though it was a treacherous one. Also, Andreas was quite a precarious driver. I was at the window seat that looked over the cliffs and we were getting quite close to the edge without slowing down around some narrow curves. Becky called out to our Italian bus driver Jon-Franco to save us.
We were treated to even more delicious food at a restaurant just outside Delphi, where they came around with a cart of raw meat to show us precisely what we could order, which I found adorable for some reason. A lot of people got combo plates, but knowing good and well that I’d only eat half of it, I got a pork kabob and some fries. My food came out a solid ten minutes later than everyone else’s, but I wasn’t mad because I was stuffing my face with fresh baked olive oil bread while I waited. Oh, and the waiters tried to serve us an alcoholic shot (it wasn’t Ouzo, but I forget what it actually was) as like, a hospitality gesture, but then Jacqueline had to explain to them that we were teachers and weren’t allowed to drink. But I smelled it, and it smelled like jet fuel, so I’m not upset I couldn’t try it.
After a short drive down the mountain pass, we arrived at Delphi and met up with our local guide, Penny, who began to take us through the archaeological site. Penny was an actual goddess. Compared to our last dud of a guide, she was exactly what we wanted. She kept the stories interesting and brief, and she had the most captivating storytelling cadence. She weaved through both the history and the myth, telling us about the beliefs of the Ancient Greeks and how they would come to Delphi to speak to the famed Oracle, the woman through whom the god Apollo would deliver his wisdom. I really can’t do her stories any justice, she told them so well.
She also talked about how the Oracle was kind of a jerk in that people would come to her, asking for advice on something, like, “If I go to war, will I be victorious?” and then respond with statements like, “If you go to war, an army will fall,” and give vague predictions to whoever sought her wisdom. In addition, there were toxic fumes leaking from a volcanic vent in the mountains that caused people to hallucinate, so their experiences with her were always very ethereal and captivating. It was SO COOL.
Also, towering above the site of Apollo’s temple was the stadium for Olympic events such as footraces and wrestling. It required quite a bit of walking to make it up there, but once we made it to the top, the views were spectacular. And there were more stray cats for all the crazy kids to play with.
We retreated down the hill and sat for a bit in the sun while waiting for the bus. In the meantime, the boys played hacky-sack (as they’d been doing any time where they were forced to wait more than five minutes. At this point, they’d played hacky-sack at more locations of historical significance than anyone else in the world). Some of the girls pet a stray dog who was basking in the glory of their attention, while one of our girls fed beef jerky to a series of cats who then proceeded to follow her around like the snakes following St. Patrick out of Ireland. At one point she literally had eleven cats following her as she came to tell us “I’m out of food and they won’t go away!” to which we reminded her, why we told her not to feed the cats.
Shortly, we were on the bus and on our way back to Glyfada. The kids were all asleep in a matter of minutes, and I even indulged in a five-minute nap until I woke back up. We stopped at yet another rest area for bathroom and snacks before finishing up the rest of the trek home to the hotel, where dinner was waiting.
Now, some of the girls on the trip invited Jen and I to eat dinner with them, because they love us. They were super cute. Also, I didn’t eat a whole ton, because we were going out for some last minute exploring post dinner with the kids, and I had every intention of getting another gyro. So I just had some pork, some rice, and some bread before “real dinner.”
After trooping the kids out, and having yet another delicious Greek sandwich, Jen and I had 30 minutes to find a bottle of wine to give Jacqueline as a gift for being so helpful. After getting wrong directions from the guy at the restaurant and exploring half of the main strip of the town, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a candy store that also sold alcohol (finally, someone read my diary). We snagged her a bottle of wine, (and I bought one for myself, as well as some rosemary olive oil), before heading back over to our meeting spot for the night.
As we began walking back to the hotel, one of the kids was talking about how happy she was that she just sat on the sidewalk in Greece with some of her best friends eating Greek cake. It melted my heart.
On the walk home, one of our students broke free from the group to visit the fruit stand we’d passed on all of our walks to pick up some strawberries. I offered to stay back with her, as well as the cluster of kids who joined her. I took advantage and picked up a jar of honey that I cannot wait to pour all over some yogurt.
Our wake-up call was at 3:30am. Nope, that’s not a typo. We were up and functioning before the entire nation of Greece. It’s funny to see students that are always so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and put-together at school suddenly resort to putting in no effort and slogging themselves onto a plane. The uniform of the day was a t-shirt and sweatshirt. More than one person asked me why I was wearing jeans.
The boys were falling asleep in the airport terminal with not an ounce of shame. However, it was also one of the boys’ birthdays, which his friends celebrated by singing a quiet, lazy version of happy birthday while approaching their sleeping friend with a duty-free box of Kinder Eggs. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
As we boarded the plane, we were greeted by one last gorgeous Greek sunrise, that we all grabbed a quick photo of before hopping our first, three-hour flight to Frankfurt. I don’t remember the flight, because I slept through most of it. Which is a rarity for me. It’s funny, I can’t sleep for shit on my way to Europe, but on the way back, I sleep like a baby.
We landed in Frankfurt with next to no time to get to our connection without sprinting. In addition, we had one kid think they lost their passport (they found it, luckily, after some frantic searching) and another kid actually lose his boarding pass. It required some convincing to get him through security, and then Jen had to go talk to someone for him to get it reprinted. Meanwhile, we were running to the other side of the airport. But luckily, we all made it unscathed onto our eight-hour transatlantic flight.
Again, I slept, off-and-on, for a good amount of the flight. I was sitting next to a bratty eleven-year-old and his grandmother. He was spending every waking moment of the flight begging her to switch seats so he could have the aisle seat. It was awful, but again, I slept through most of it, thank god.
Before I knew it, we were touching down at Logan, and we’d done it. We’d gotten 36 kids to Europe and back again.
I wish the same could be said for our luggage. Yeah, they lost about half of our crew’s bags, mine included. I’m sitting here writing this blog entry two days after getting home and I still haven’t gotten it back yet. Supposedly they’re delivering it before the day is over, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyways, we all loaded onto the coach bus with all the kids and some of the bags and drove an hour back to the high school. Despite the luggage issues, everyone was in high spirits and full of smiles, excited to be back home and give their parents hugs. It was super cute to see them all reunite with their families. I almost cried. We also had a bunch of kids come up to us and give us hugs and thank-yous for organizing the trip. I was happy to help them see a little bit more of the world I teach them about.
So, at the end of all of this, I learned a couple of important lessons.
- Traveling doesn’t always mean that you’re going to fall in love with every place you visit. I’m allergic to Italy, and that’s okay. The Vatican makes me bored. That’s okay. I’d rather be on a boat on the Danube sipping wine. Plenty of people would agree with me, plenty won’t. It’s all about travel style. Is it hard to be with people who are super excited to be somewhere that you find underwhelming? Yeah, a little. But at the end of the day, so long as you let them enjoy themselves, there’s no harm in it. Just smile, take a deep breath, eat some gelato, and everything will be ok.
- Being able to take kids out of the classroom and out into the world has arguably the most wonderful thing I’ve done in my short career, and I cannot wait to do it again. It’s Budapest, Vienna, and Prague in June of 2019, it’s already in the works, and I’m so ready. This time, we’re going to my favorite cities I’ve ever visited, and I cannot wait to share them with my students.
- And finally, sophomore boys from New Hampshire are terrible at Greek dancing, sunshine can do a lot to improve your mood, and if you want to make a sandwich better, put French fries on it.
Until next time, arrivederci.