The summer before my senior year of high school I traveled abroad. I went with my mom, art teacher Raelene Schliep and her husband Bub, my best friend Jackie Ridgway, and two other students Emily Moore and Brianna Schlick. It took some convincing to get my parents on board with letting me go on this trip. My mom said she didn’t want me going alone and my dad said the only way I could go is if my mom went too. So I had to convince her that she really wanted to take two weeks off of work, spend several thousand dollars, leave my dad and sisters at home with a large time difference and a few communication barriers, fly 8 hours overseas to another country with different customs, language, and currency. Sounds as easy as asking to invite a friend over huh?
Eventually I got her on board to go. We applied for our passports, bought travel locks and european outlet adaptors, set up a special bank account (incase we lost the debit card we didn’t want someone being able to drain our bank account) and exchanged some dollars for Euros.
We traveled to Italy, the French Riviera, and France through an educational tour group called EF Tours. We were combined with two groups of students from Oklahoma and a group of obnoxious girls from an all girls school in St. Louis. The people were fun and I still stay in touch with some of the people from Oklahoma. It was interesting to be surrounded by people from other states and ways of life, all while experiencing a foreign country.
Jackie and I being art students and traveling with our art teacher, were fascinated by the old architecture in Rome, the ornate details of the many cathedrals we visited, and seeing the work of master artists in The Orsay Museum in France. We were able to stand in front of a piece of work and have a deep conversation about the beauty, meaning, and elements. We were like kids in a candy store walking through the museum guessing which artist had painted which piece and ooing and ahhhing at the pieces we had only dreamed of seeing in person. To travel abroad I feel like you have to be able to understand and appreciate the history, art, and culture. So much of what we saw would have meant little or nothing had we not studied the stuff. If we were to walk through a museum or cathedral without reading any of the descriptions we would have only seen, but known nothing. I have learned that art can be right in front of you, but you have to learn to truly see it.
I loved getting to share this experience with my mom. There was nothing quite like it. We kept travel journals and in hers she wrote about how part of her joy and excitement came from seeing the trip through my eyes, watching me learn, and seeing my excitement.
I could write a whole blog post about our eight hour overnight flight from Chicago to Rome, but I will some up a few of the main points. I sat beside Jackie. This was her first flight ever. She put up our shared armrest and scooted her butt clear over onto my seat and laid her head on her armrest. She saw I wasn’t using my tray so she took it upon herself to put it down and rest her feet on it. I couldn’t sleep so I watched several movies. From the many refreshments I had to use the bathroom. Which meant waking Jackie up, waiting in line, and walking into a bathroom in which my shoes stuck to the floor. Gross! When I tried to slide the level to unlock the door it was stuck. I went into panic mode thinking I would be stuck in there for the duration of the flight. Or worse, what if when we got to Rome they forgot about me and I was stuck in the plane while everyone else enjoyed Europe? So I did what every sensible person would do, I pushed from one direction and tried pulling from the other. Still nothing. I only had one option left SCREEEEEAAAAMMMM! Just kidding. Instead I knocked on the bathroom door until the flight attendant’s chipper voice responded. I proceeded to tell her the door was stuck and she opened it from the outside. I walked back to my seat debating on whether or not I wanted to tell the rest of the group that I got stuck in an airplane bathroom.
I spent most of the night watching the clock and the movies. When our plane finally landed in Rome I hadn’t slept much but was full of energy. I remember on the drive from the airport to our hotel I thought “Why did I waste money coming here? It’s nothing like I expected. Look at how gross this city looks. There is trash and flyers all over the place. Where are all the pretty adobe looking houses with flowers that you see in all the movies.” Rome turned out to be a lot of fun though.
Our first stop was gelato and the Trevi Fountain. We threw some coins in and ate the world’s greatest form of ice cream. Seriously there is nothing like Italian gelato and all the places in the United States that claim to serve gelato are lying.
We saw The Coliseum and some old ruins, enjoyed some delicious Italian food, and did lots of shopping. Some highlights included bartering jewelry from a street vendor. They sell cheap stuff and knock off items. It’s illegal, so it’s hilarious to watch them pick up their stuff and run if the cops are near.
We also stopped one afternoon at a little cafe. Rome was hot and we were tired and needed a break. Jackie and I went inside and decided we were going to buy our first bottle of wine. We had tried some of Bub’s the previous night at dinner and it was so bitter we wanted to spit it back out. So we went up to the counter and told the guy that we wanted to buy some wine, but we wanted something that tasted like grape juice instead of wine. He goes, “Aww, you want something sweet, like me. I have just the one.” We paid twelve Euros and sat outside under umbrellas with my mom, Raelene, and Bub while we waited for our wine to be poured. Florence Bucur was the most charming Italian we met. He was sweet, friendly, and quite good-looking. While sitting and drinking our wine a bird had pooped on my arm. I was quite disgusted and slightly mortified. Once I got it cleaned up we proceeded to drink our wine. When we were leaving we took a picture with Florence and he said, “Ladies if we meet again it will be because of fate or Facebook.” He gave us his name, phone number, and address and told us to add him on Facebook. From that moment on we described that story as having wine with Romeo.
Then we went to Vatican City where we got to see The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked through the Sistine Chapel and saw The Pieta. Everything was beautiful beyond words. The next day we went to St. Peter’s Square where we attend Pope Benedict XVI’s public blessing.
After Rome we went to Florence and Siena, which fit my perceived description of what all of Italy would look like. The countryside was so beautiful and the weather was sunny, breezy, and perfect!
In Paris we also saw The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Orsay Museum, and The Louvre (home to the Mona Lisa). We had to ride the subway to get around in Paris. It has a zillion different routes and was so confusing. The night we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower we had to race through the subway to catch all of our stops before it shut down for the night. Imagine trying to cram 50 hurried people in our group in among all the other people who wanted on. Otherwise we would have had to walk several miles back to our hotel in the dark, unfamiliar streets of Paris. I loved seeing the sites of Paris, but I’m not sure I would return.
Some things I found interesting about this trip: In Italy you “play chicken with traffic.” You walk out and the traffic will stop, but they don’t stop until the last minute so it’s kind of scary. There are lots of scooters and they zigzag through traffic. A few times I thought some people were going to die because they drive like such maniacs. Shops close down in the afternoons for naptime and close pretty early in the evenings. Water is often served at room temperature, without ice. On the hot days in Rome that was hard to get used to. Some rest stop type places charge you to use the restroom. In Rome they are ashamed of new buildings and don’t dig for a subway because of all the ruins. Italians were charming and helpful. French people were rude and aggressive.
This trip was an experience I will never forget. I hope to return to Italy, as well as visit many other European countries.