Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And now, YOUR pictures!

The blog is done, but now it's time for all of us to share our photos.  So Phase Two of this little project now moves to the Shutterfly photo sharing site you can find here:


Many participants received an e-mail with instructions, but basically, all you need to do to upload your own photos is to get a free Shutterfly account and permission (from me!) to upload to our site.  Visitors who just want to browse the site can do so without signing up for anything.

As far as I've been able to tell, there is no limit to the number of pictures we can upload.  Shutterfly hopes to make money with offers to turn the pictures into prints or coffee mugs or other stuff like that, but you are under no obligation to buy anything from them.  Have fun!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Personal Observations

I've usually been using the plural "we" when updating this blog because all 106 of us were in this together from beginning to end.  Still, as the blog portion of our adventure begins to wind down, I wanted to share some personal observations and reflections, some of which will only make sense to the folks who were there.

I can't seem to get Ciaran's voice out of my head...but then again, why would I want to?

Here on our first full day home, I've already had two naps today.  Both times, I woke up suddenly with the alarmed feeling that right at that moment, I should be taking a picture of something.

No matter how tired I got, nor how sore my feet, nothing put me in a better mood than hearing high school students spontaneously sing showtunes.

We all had just about enough of the pushy umbrella salesmen and cheap souvenir vendors, and we frequently wondered how they could possibly make any money.  Without question, though, the best moneymaking operation at any of the tourist sites had to be the pay toilet business.

I will never ever complain about inattentive school audiences ever again. Ever.

Apologies in advance to those of you who don't find this funny, but I'm looking forward to the principal's reaction when we tell her that the students had lots of margheritas and crack on the trip. Margheritas (note the spelling) are inexpensive cheese pizzas, and as Ciaran told us, 'crack' is a common Irish term for 'fun'.

In the fleeting moments that I had a television on, it was obvious that the most popular Italian TV programs are American programs that have been dubbed into Italian. 

Those on the Delta flight back home probably noticed the pierced and tattooed middle-aged British blokes traveling with us.  One of them was sitting next to me.  Turns out they're a barely successful 80s punk band known as One Way System who are still touring and performing more than thirty years later.  Basically, a real-life Spinal Tap. 

We "count off" every time on the bus before we left any location to make sure we didn't lose anybody.  Despite Siriki's best efforts, I still can't remember my number in Italian. 

Speaking of losing anybody, it's interesting that the three different times anyone was actually lost for any period of time, it was an adult.  And yes, I'm afraid that the worst of the three incidents was mine.  It made me wonder how tours kept track of each other before cell phones.

Finally, my most important observation from our trip.  Your children are amazing.  I was delighted to be along for the ride. Thanks.


More Pictures

EVERYBODY took pictures, and soon we'll be telling you about an exciting way we're going to be able to share all of them with each other.  Right now, here are a few more (taken by Mrs. Blogger) that didn't fit into the narrative of the trip, but are still representative of what we experienced.

 Walking.  Lots and lots of walking.

 Composer Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca, one of the stops on our trip.  The city erected this statue in front of his birthplace.

These guys (well, the two with the suspenders) were fixtures in the lobby of our hotel in Montecatini Terme.  According to the staff, they are 90 year old mannequins which were originally designed to promote the healing properties of the nearby hot springs.  The two are supposed to represent the same person "before" and "after". So apparently, the springs not only made you thinner, they also made you taller.

 I teased Mrs. Reed for not having much to do on the trip, but the truth is she was an invaluable resource and a treasured part of our adventures.

 In the Vatican, even the admission tickets were works of art.

This sign was everywhere in the Vatican.  
We're pretty sure it means "No Exuberant Dancing on the Stairs"

 Far too often, this pretty much summed up a lot of our sightseeing.

 For many, this was one of the best sights in our travels.

 Performing for the students in Civita Castellana

Our 'pianista' Mrs. Richardson

Easley, Ottinger and Greenberg
The Matt Section

Thursday, April 4, 2013

More to Come

Hey, it's my first blog post from the comfort of my own computer at home!  We're all back home safe and sound, of course.  Thanks for the kind words about the blog.  We'll have a few more leftover pictures to post tomorrow, and soon we'll be telling you when and where you'll be able to see some of our video from the trip.  And ultimately, we'll put together a keepsake collection on DVD or Blu-Ray for all the families to have. So even though the trip is over, the blog will stay active a little longer.  More soon!

In Detroit!

The larger of the two group has landed in Detroit.  The other plane was delayed but should arrive soon.  We're leaving on buses for home soon, abnd they'll be behind us whenever they get through customs (a pretty painless process).  In a little while, call 706-4945 for updates about our ETA.  We're guessing our group will get there about 10:30, but that's unofficial at this point.  Blog updates will not be possible on the bus.  See you soon!

Layover in Amsterdam

The group of us that are making our connection in Amsterdam have arrived safely.  Slightly ahead of schedule, even, which doesn't mean a lot when our Detroit flight is still more than three hours away.  The airport is enormous so there are plenty of things to do.

Since some of you might not have seen Mr. McDowell's comment in another post and might be tracking our progress, I'll repost it here:

For those at home who like to track flights online, note that the flight numbers are different than the ones in the Agenda - Flight - Hotel Information document we were given.

The United group will be on UA967 from Rome to Washington DC, not UA 43. The Delta group will be on DL 9448 from Rome to Amsterdam, not DL 1598.

The connecting flights to Detroit remain the same: UA 5734 and DL 249.

You can set up text message or e-mail alerts at flightstats.com

Arrivederci Roma!

Greetings from Leonardo da Vinci Airport!  We board our flights in the next few minutes, but we just wanted to say hi and tell you we're on our way.
 This magnificent palace was one of the last stops on our...nah, actually, this is our hotel!
 The dining room where we had breakfast each morning.
 One of the beautiful churches we toured while we were...nah, believe it or not, THIS was in our hotel as well!

We're anxious to be home!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Guiding Hands

Here are some of the people who got us where we needed to be.

 Ciaran, Sevilay and Siriki, our tour guides all week

 Our bus drivers

Chaperones and various other hangers-on

Fearless Leader and friend

We leave for the airport tomorrow morning at 7am (it's just after midnight now).  The United flight with the smaller group of us leaves Rome airport at 10:50 and routes through Washington DC on its way to Detroit, arriving just before 7pm.  The Delta flight with the larger group leaves Rome at 10:35 and stops for a layover in Amsterdam before continuing to Detroit and a scheduled 7:45 landing.  If we can, we'll try one more blog entry from Amsterdam, plus a final one in Detroit with information about our return to Okemos.  As much fun as we've had all week, it will be nice to be home.

Afternoon Performance

Our final concert took place at St. Paul's Within the Walls, an American Episcopal Church built in 1873.  As far as Rome is concerned, practically brand new!  It was the first non-Roman Catholic church to be built inside the walls of Rome.  We had a smaller but far more attentive audience, and another beautiful performance.

Morning Performance

The first of our two performances today was at a public school in Civita Castellana, a small town north of Rome.  It probably was not our most attentive audience, partly because it was their first day back after Spring Break and they seemed more interested in talking to each other than listening to the American performers.  Still, they applauded wildly at the end of all our numbers, and everybody enjoyed mingling afterwards.

In addition to being one of the the main tour guides for our trip, Ciaran ("KEER-an") served as interpreter for our two concerts today.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon was originally built as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome. Today, in addition to being a tourist attraction, it is also a Catholic church.  Our visit there was relatively brief, but no one on our trip is going to forget it.  We were allowed to perform one sacred song from our program inside the building!  It was an incredibly emotional moment that had most of the adults and many of the students in tears.  And once again, we've created memories not only for us but for hundreds of strangers who'll go home from their own vacations talking about their trip to the Pantheon and how a terrific student group suddenly started performing inside.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, and certainly the most famous.  Visitors throw coins in the fountain not just for any wish, but for a very specific one.  Tradition holds that a visitor who throws a coin into Trevi Fountain will be ensured a return visit to Rome.  None of us seemed to have a problem with that!

In the movies, the fountain is usually deserted 
except for the young couple in love.

In reality, not so much.