Machu Picchu Bound….

It’s official! I’ll be going to Peru in the spring of 2016! Cheehoo! This is a dream-come-true and a bucket list item. I’ll be going as a chaperone for our high school’s EF Tour. (Here’s a link to the website that I set up for the students & parents.)

And here I am after receiving confirmation. #blessed

Story:
After hearing about the trip, I scheduled an appointment with my financial advisor to see if I could somehow afford this. It was my original intention to pay as a tour participant. After learning that this was not happening, I accepted the situation. It just wasn’t meant to be. (Not willing to sacrifice supporting ministries or missions.)

Weeks later, I learned from the lead teacher that I would be able to go for free as a chaperone if 4 more students signed up for the trip. That was highly improbable, but “nothing’s impossible.” In just one week, 5 more signed up. I believe that this was indeed a blessing from God.

At today’s Peru trip meeting, I was reunited with some of my former middle school students. They were excited to hear the announcement. And I was incredibly thankful.
Muchas gracias….

Europe Trip Day 1: The Journey

Just returned from my “YOLO trip” to Europe with the high school. This trip was a dream come true! There were 40 of us, approximately 20 students and 20 adults. This was an 11-day EF Tour. I kept a journal in my Moleskine notebook….

We left late Monday night, March 19th, and had a 6-hour layover in San Fran.

EF provided us with a city bus tour. We visited the Golden Gate Bridge and had amazing clam chowder at Chowders at Pier 39. We then took a 10-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany aboard Lufthansa Airlines. This was definitely one of the best airlines that I’ve ever flown on.

I believe that “Day 1” officially began on Wednesday. We had a 2-hour layover in Frankfurt and a 1½ hour flight to Rome. There we met our Tour Director “Javi.” We arrived at our hotel late in the afternoon.

What one word would I use to describe the hotels in Europe? “Quaint?” “Charming?” How about “ghetto.” Haha. Don’t let the stars on the sign fool you. Still, we were all very excited. (And it’s all part of the experience.)

I can’t believe that I’m finally here in Rome….

Europe Trip Day 2: Roma

One of my best days ever….

Thursday was sunny and beautiful. The temperature was almost 70˙. And yes, I still can’t believe I’m in Rome.

Our first stop was to the Colosseum. There we saw what looked like a bunch of “USC mascots” (dressed-up gladiators who pose for pics with tourists.) As I walked by, one whacked me on the rear with a plastic sword and said, “Come take a picture little man,” to the delight of our tour group….

Javi then took us on a walking tour through the side streets of Rome. He calls these streets the “Real Rome” where many tourists don’t get to explore.

Most of the side streets are cobblestone and are full of cafés, gelato shops, and neighborhood churches.

There are also these piazzas or squares that are gathering places. Many had obelisks like this one.

Not a bad place to spend a morning….

After walking through more side streets, we turned a corner and came upon the Pantheon. At this point, my brain was turning into mush from seeing so many amazing things. (Click on photo for full size.)

We had some free time at the Spanish Steps. Yes, we walked up the steps. In fact, we did a whole lotta walking on this trip.

This was one of the top two pizzas that I’ve ever had (the one in New York was good too.) Tomatoes just taste different here. Everything is fresh and homemade. This pizza was sliced, then weighed on a scale, and then folded. It was so good. We had gelato for dessert.

We then visited the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi.)

I actually brought a couple of Hawai’i quarters for this….

Dinner was at the La Baia Ristorante Pizzeria. We had bruschetta, lasagna, flan, and live music.

I love Italia….

Europe Trip Day 3: Stato della Città del Vaticano

Of all the incredible things that we saw on the trip, I would say that Vatican City was the most impressive for me. (It also could have been a cumulative effect from Day 2.) What I saw at St. Peter’s Basilica and in the Sistine Chapel totally blew my mind. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel. After going through a security check, we got to tour. I learned that in Italy, most of the art is not in museums, but in churches.

St. Peter’s Basilica. Home of the Pope….

The building itself is impressive from the outside.

Inside, the walls and ceilings were covered with art.

Unfortunately, I could not get a pic inside the Sistine Chapel. It was stunning. I had to sit and try to process what I was seeing. The photos that you see online are only sections of the ceiling. Seeing the whole thing at once was an experience I’ll never forget….

Here are a few of the students posing for me after a gelato break. We ate a lot of gelato for sure. The cool thing about the trip was how the tour group bonded. I made a lot of good friends on this trip.

Colosseo.

After lunch, we took a tour inside of the Colosseum with a local guide.

We then walked over to the Forum and continued the tour there.

Roman Forum.

We were given some free time before dinner. We walked over to the Tiber River to take pictures at sunset.

By the way, this is what the cars look like in Rome. Students would yell out “coche” whenever one was approaching from behind.

After a pizza dinner, we took an evening bus tour of the city. Here is the Trevi Fountain at night. Another Hawai’i quarter…. We also visited the Spanish Steps and St. Peter’s Square. We had to walk quite far to find restrooms, and that was an adventure as well.

Rome was amazing. At this point I thought to myself, “This is already a great trip. Everything else from this point on is just gravy….”

Europe Trip Day 4: Assisi

This is what our typical breakfast looked like on tour. The bread in Europe is terrific. Crunchy & crusty….

These are packages of toast. I would take a few each day to give to the beggars on the street. (I didn’t want to give money in case they were faking it.) I also collected leftover bread and rolls that were going to be thrown out. I believe that I was also setting an example for the students on the trip. By the 2nd week, they were saving their breads for me. I always had 4-5 rolls in my backpack.

We traveled by tour bus to Assisi. We had nice motor coaches throughout the trip.

Our driver in Italy was Giuseppe. He was usually late and smoked cigarettes in the bus while he waited for us. He was also a good guy. He wore stylish suits and played European techno music on the bus.

On the way to Assisi, we visited a pottery factory. There were wines, salami, cheeses, pottery, and souvenirs for sale. Our tour group did a lot of damage there. I’m not much of a shopper. I just ate free samples and took pictures on my iPhone.

We reached Assisi before lunch time. It was beautiful.

We visited the Basilica of San Francesco. We were given a presentation by a fryer there.

The view was breathtaking. For lunch, I had a panini sandwich with prosciutto ham.

And of course, gelato. I must’ve had at least two gelati per day.

We then headed for Tuscany….

We reached our hotel outside of Florence by dinner time. Did I mention that we were not staying at resort hotels?

Are you kidding me? When you turn on the shower, the water hits the toilet. Fortunately, I had hot water here. What was gross was that the shower curtain kept clinging to my okole. I had to wash everything twice. On the positive side, I could actually use the toilet, shower, and brush my teeth in the bidet all at the same time….