Students Discover the Splendor of Italy (.And Its Pigeons) A Group of Parents and Children Get Together with a Geography Teacher

Article excerpt

The photos I had just picked up from the store told me everything about my children's view of our trip to Italy.

Flying off their Kodachrome memories were pigeons - dozens of them, from all over the country. Harlan and Matthew, my kids, had been especially enthralled in Venice by the thousands that descend daily on Europe's finest drawing room, as Napoleon called St. Mark's Square, in search of tourist-supplied corn.

My children and I were in Italy as part of a student tour. For a high-speed week in April, 24 of us clambered in and out of our bus, climbed cathedral stairs, glided down canals in gondolas, and admired famous sculptures together.

Many of us met for the first time at the airport in Boston. We had a common link: the organizer of the tour, Richard Jensen. Some of us knew him as our child's seventh-grade teacher. Others knew him through their church.

This year, like many others, he had arranged a tour through one of the major companies - in our case, EF Educational Tours - that craft itineraries for student groups and make travel and guide arrangements.

Typically, he traveled with his wife, Joanne, the students, and occasionally a parent or two. But this year, several parents came along, most with the goal of sharing a special and relatively planning-free experience. And it worked: As Mitzi Gilbert, a mother, noted, "It was a winning combination of the ease factor and having my daughter with friends." Caitlin LeBlanc, a seventh-grader, echoed that: "I liked having a parent along - but being with friends was great."

As we introduced ourselves, we laced our comments with disclaimers. We were not "tour types." The "If it's Tuesday, this must be Rome" holiday was not for us. But that's in fact the experience we were headed for. And with kids, many of us decided, it was exactly the right way to go.

We landed first thing in the morning in Milan, where our Italian guide, Santo Sammartino, joined us. Our tour began in earnest right then, and we headed to Verona, home of Juliet's balcony, among other things.

From there, the whirlwind never stopped. In a week, we passed through Verona, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Assisi, Pompeii, Sorrento, Rome and the island of Capri.

Still, we all found quiet moments where we could savor the surroundings or enjoy - again and again - a gelato. And for such a quick trip we accumulated a surprising number of these moments.

In part, that was the result of traveling with many adults who could trade off accompanying children to various sites. I was able, for example, to slip off by myself in Florence for a few hours - visiting the Ponte Vecchio, climbing to the top of Brunelleschi's Duomo -while my children went to Pisa. Other times, parents would go off with their children to see a site giving them "just family" time.

Stops ranged from a few hours to a day-plus. …