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
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
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
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. …