Group Travel with Kids

Bonjourno! I’m happy to be home, on familiar territory. The snow banks are steeper than me and the icy wind cuts throughout the body, especially when walking through five feet of it into your office at dawn. I am so lucky to have an office at the beach and grateful to be alive again today.  I have written about traveling with children before, and I have traveled with them many times since then. This trip in particular is going to stay close to my heart for a lifetime. European Vacation 2015 was the trip I didn’t ask for, honestly, it wasn’t even on my near future of a bucket list. I love that about hindsight, and things that you may or may not believe are coincidences. My thirteen year old daughter asked for us to go on this trip. It was a school trip organized by her amazing, talented and beautiful italian teacher. She’s quite a tough cookie in a small package, she’s from Rome and in my mind that explains her tenacity. More about  the Roma later.

Needless to say, I signed up for the Italian tour with my estranged husband, daughter and nine-year old son. We all live together already, how hard can it be to share a room, in three major destinations across the sea, with 28 other people anyway? I’m always up for a challenge, that has been established quite clearly over the years. I decided early on after booking the trip, that I would just be my quiet self while in Italy, because I’ve always been very intimidated of other languages. That being said, I love to listen to other languages, most of the time slack jawed because I am being asked a question that I have no clue how to respond. More often than not I repeat the asking party’s question back, this is always the wrong answer and eventually I am served a plate of food that I eat out of obligatory respect. Delisiouso!

We (twenty seven of us) flew out of Logan around noon on Wednesday and after stopping briefly in Germany to touch more bathrooms and get used to each others company we landed in Venezia  to meet Sacha our energy filled tour manager (we are now 28) around 11 am on Thursday. Such fun I say!
The first thing I’ll say is I love the smoking lounges in the German airports. There isn’t a better way to market your product. I psyched myself up for a week to just get over smoking if I couldn’t, I worried a lot for nothing because just as I had been told, the Europeans smoke like animals. Grazie!
I felt quite at ease knowing that if I was hanging out my window having a cigarette, three other people were too. I also hung wet socks out the window to dry and felt like I was a local.  I felt quite civilized looking for an ashtray or barrel for my butts so as not to littler the already butt covered sidewalks of the cities. The best obscure tip I read before leaving for Itlay was to bring a face cloth. I brought my little camping cloth and was thankful every day. Not one hotel had one, we weren’t staying at the Ritz, but the hotels were much nicer than some of the dumps I’ve stayed in stateside with worn face cloths available. I appreciate the little comforts of home when I travel. I travel often and have honed in on some pretty good tips and ways to encourage my introvert personality to experience as much of life as I can.
This trip couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. I’m writing my second book and although I don’t have a writer’s block, I am over whelmed with ideas for the future and essentially running on a hamster wheel often. My mind is on articles, and high schools and another book in the works. Hearing a foreign language for eight days was quite a reprieve for the words that are constantly hammering my mind in my own Modge Podge of East Coast slang and character impersonations.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, my girl does this constantly, only out loud. She has a voice and isn’t afraid to use it. It is one of her most attractive and amazing qualities for me to see as her mother. It isn’t unheard of for her to remain in character for more than an hour, although it sometimes can work the last nerve of the day ~ its a skill in her heart that I love. That adds some more people to our crowded family quad on the first two nights abroad. No rest for the weary, right away after check in and some brief bathing in the bidet by my nine-year old son, we went to our first meal as a group.
My son said to me first thing this morning, “I am really going to miss Sacha’s hellos every day.” and he repeated Sacha’s speal of, “No rest for the weary.” Sacha, our passports tour manager, repeated this phrase no less than 576 times in eight days. I have a feeling these are the types of brief memories that will be so poignant in years to come. The kids were shell-shocked with jet lag, and one of the girls went to sleep before her pizza came out. The boy was starving and ate as much as was given to him, “I’m starving” would also be said more than a million times over the week. Maybe it was the overseas travel but his appetite was fierce and I learned after quite a few run ins with his appetite, to stick a loaf of bread in my 40 pound purse I was lugging. By no means is this the easy peasie travel of a 40 something year old woman alone or with a friend. I had luggage. I have to say my daughter and her father were very aware and extremely forgiving and comforting of my adversity to traveling with a group and traveling to a foreign country. The first thing I said to our Tour Guide was, hello, with a big smile, and then a grunt of, “I don’t travel well.” I thought an immediate disclaimer should be said.
The time in Venice was a whirlwind. We arrived during Carnival, the week before Ash Wednesday. The over the top costumes of the locals and mysterious glamour of the lagoon landscape was undeniable. Today was to be our first full day of touring. The weather was cool and the kids were excited. There were 12 kids total, ranging in age from 9 to 14. Most of them I have known since kindergarten. A few I”ve been fortunate enough to get to know over the trip. I love them all, for their bravery and the tenacious youth that each one shows in a different way. My understanding of what our days would be like was this, take in a three-hour sightseeing gig and then have the rest of the day free with a group dinner. I’m not sure where I got that idea, it wasn’t like that at all. Today we will, have breakfast, take a water taxi to Venice proper and tour the Doges Palace. Good enough! Count me in, I made sure I did my research on my surroundings and was excited for some ancient beauty. We then continued to a glass blowing demonstration and acceptance of monetary restrictions, immediately followed by a beautiful explanation of the art of lace making at a Lace School where my daughter added to her list of things she must learn to do. What a full day, the boys appetite had been screaming for over an hour and we thankfully stopped and had lunch at nowhere else but, The Hard Rock Cafe. Knowing full well that I likely didn’t have it in me to keep touring, I bailed from the group after lunch and before the Gondola ride. The kids were excited for this and over the years I had personally imagined a Gondola in Venice to be a little different. I walked back over the Bridge of Sighs and with more than a bit of spring in my step to be alone I found my way back to the hotel on public transit. My girl, an artist herself and so, so happy to be part of a group, was delighted and wished me well on my afternoon. She then sat back on a chilly boat with her friends and family and happily gazed up to a passing bridge and got caught strait between the eyes with a thick wad of spit. She told me the story when she came in that night, a little embarrassed I think, but more laughable and excited to be a part of this diverse experience. I told her it was fortuitous and good luck for the future, it was also Friday the thirteenth. She wasnt buying it, but thinks I am funny. We laughed, it was more than good to laugh with her.
I am pretty sure every kid ate two servings of gelato every day. Maybe most of the adults too. I’m not a big fan of gelato or ice cream for that matter. I was quite fond of all the chocolate shops throughout the trip and even found some cannabis chocolate, which is quite good but certainly not mind altering.
I should mention now as well, my kids are in Catholic School. Elementary and middle.  I am a member of the Catholic church and its a beautiful and fearful, religion and faith for me. I have been particularly restless with it lately, and visiting so many stunningly beautiful and gold laden churches in seven days with a pinnacle of Vatican City, I am no less bewildered, if not annoyed.
Have I  mentioned that Sacha our passports tour manager, resembled a bit of the original Willy Wonka, with much of the same bounce in his step and more handsome and a little naughty.  He is a history and architecture buff and I immediately was satisfied with my guide. We all agreed to some basic rules of group behavior, the biggest of which was no whining. It was a valuable boundary, and we all managed to keep the bitching between ourselves. It was mostly gentle complaining about feet or realizing we weren’t used to such a busy pace. I am close friends with a few of the families having been such a small community for the past eight years. The other families I knew well enough and was confident that our mix would be okay. This isn’t something I take lightly . Since I was a child I have always been the kid that needed to go home in the middle of the night or even worse realizing the person who was spending the night at my house was really not who I thought they were at school. It could have been simply that they asked too many questions or simply couldn’t sleep with the radio on.  My mother has driven her share of kids home in the wee hours of the night because of awkward adolescent silence. I could tell you a dozen more stories from over the years, that unfortunately would make this piece of history fall to the wayside. The point is I considered all parties and there was only 2 people I didn’t know from the start. It wasnt long before I started romanticizing what it would be like to live abroad, going on tours alone or with a lover. This is the romantic escapism that carries me up and down in my mood way to often, for a middle-aged east coast, modern woman. I’m always the one to fall in love with an idea of a different way of life. So many my chapters have started with, ideas of the moment. Now I just accept myself as part gypsy. When I am tired of moving, I guess I’ll stop. On to Firenze!

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