Italy - 2012
We had 86 parents, grandparents, and children join us on our first international trip to Italy. We traveled together for ten wonderful days, visiting Rome, Pompeii, Pisa, Florence, Venice, and the islands of Burano and Murano.
Everything from start to finish (except for the cold/flu I brought back with me) far exceeded our expectations. We had excellent tour guides throughout our trip, bus drivers who navigated the roads with exceptional skill (and nerves of steel), and wonderful weather the entire time we were there (in the 60s/70s, no rain except for lightly in Naples while we were transferring to the bus).
The children bonded very soon after we started our journey. It was wonderful to see how much they enjoyed touring and experiencing new things together (even dancing together during our Tuscan Dinner!).
Our local guides were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and all of our hotels (3) were perfect for our needs. The included meals were great (multi-course dinners), and most of the breakfasts were good (with the exception of one hotel that didn't provide enough protein choices).
We had a packed itinerary, but not rushed (for the most part), with free time sprinkled in here and there. In Rome we visited the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Parliament, Pantheon, Colosseum (amazing), Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel (wow), and St. Peter's Square and Basilica (majestic doesn't describe it). We also went to see the Catacombs (the official cemetery for the Christians of Rome and burial place of third-century popes), and walked along the Appian Way.
We went south to see Pompeii (another wow experience), then went back up north to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Square of Miracles (well worth the stop), then spent two nights in Florence. I really wish we could have spent an extra day there because it's such a beautiful city and very walkable. Seeing Michelangelo's David in person was yet another wow moment for me. (I wish I could've taken pictures, but it's not allowed.) We also spent time at the Cathedral and the Uffizi Gallery.
I think the teen's favorite experience in Florence was walking to the local McDonalds by themselves at night, getting lost, asking a shopkeeper for directions, and getting a "tour" of the disco beneath the McDonald's by one of their employees (who was proud they had a disco there!). My kids said that the fries tasted just like here in the States, but the hamburgers are different).
After leaving Florence, we spent three days in Venice and the nearby islands of Burano (lace-makers) and Murano (glass-blowers). I think Burano was everyone's favorite because we were able to walk all over and it wasn't crowded. Very peaceful and colorful! While we were in Venice, we saw St. Mark's Square and Basilica, the Clock Tower, Doges’ Palace, and walked through the prison and Bridge of Sighs (the children enjoyed that!). Many of us also took a Gondola ride - it was expensive, but worth the experience. Another worthwhile experience was just getting lost among the twisty streets and alleys and finding our way back out again.
This was such a worthwhile experience for all of us (with most families telling me the trip far exceeded their expectations), that I hope to plan at least one international trip every year. Even families who are experienced independent travelers said they (and their children) enjoyed the group aspect much more than they thought they would. We had such a flexible and fun-loving group of families, and our kids were fantastic (as usual!). Our tour guides told us that we were their first group this season, and they hoped that all of their groups would be just like us. They seemed to really enjoy spending time with us and the children.
Some of you have already asked where we're planning to go next. I have Alaska planned for May 2013 (not really international, although we will be traveling through Canada), and have received a lot of requests for England. So I'm thinking about scheduling England for May 2014, but maybe something else before then... I'm not sure if I can wait two years for another experience like this (if my budget can stand it!) Regardless of where we go, I'll post information as soon as I can so we can start saving!
I want to thank all the families who traveled with me on this first international trip. It was such an amazing and memorable experience for me, and you're a big part of what made it so special.
Thank you so much!
Friend me on Facebook to see pictures of this trip: http://www.facebook....inahomeschooler
(I'll try to add them in our private gallery soon!)