Benvenuto a Italia!
March 1998
Map of Italy travels


The following has been prepared to help give you a taste for what the Thayer group experienced during a recent trip to Italy. Only some of the more memorable moments are listed here. To get the complete story, ask one of the Italy Travelers listed at the end of this page.

Smashing! Let’s hear what’s new in Brit Pop.
Right then, here we go now!
Airplane seat

Flying British Airways to London’s Heathrow airport for six hours requires you do anything possible to relax. Each seat on the plane offered a kit of essentials to aid passengers. Included was a pillow, blanket, and a package containing toothbrush, toothpaste, stereo headphones, a sleeping blindfold, and (a big hit with the girls) snuggly fitting booties. For those of us neglecting to bring a tape or CD player, the on-board music included a variety of channels for listening. Among the classical, jazz, and international selections was British Pop. The songs were tolerable, and may be well known in England, but still nothing like the Rock and Pop we have at home. The one exception was the Titanic theme song heard virtually everywhere and all the time throughout our travels. Next to Pope Paul, Leonardo DiCaprio was the most cherished figure to be found.

Wake-up and eat –again. You can crash later!

The British Air flight attendants made sure everyone was well fed before arriving in London. Just as you might fall into a comfortable sleep another meal or snack was coming your way. Each was usually served with chilled silverware, cold enough for your tongue to stick to it.

The flight to Rome was uneventful save for the near crash landing. Due to very strong crosswinds, a long approach was used. While the plane buffeted sideways, pitched up and down, and then rolled to the point of almost touching a wing tip to pavement, the pilot found a moment to drop us safely down on the runway.

Who’s sick and what’s lost?

The first few days in Italy were exceptionally difficult for some more than others. A few group members learned their luggage had gone elsewhere in Europe without them. Periodic illness struck others, while some had to brave cold nights with no heat in their rooms. To her credit, Mrs. Bruneau braved these and other calamities while keeping the group together and always pushing forward. We were in very good hands with her as Group Leader. Our Tour Guide, whom stayed with us throughout the trip, was Flavio. She spoke excellent English and never stopped smiling. Lello was our bus driver. Despite his mob-hit-man-during-off-hours look, he could drive, park and bank a bus through narrow streets and thick traffic like nobody else. David Copperfield wishes he could do tricks like this guy!

Students can not live on bread and water alone

The hotel in Vicco Enquensa was home base for excursion trips to Sorrento and Pompeii. Sorrento offered many shops with ideal pricing. Visits were made to factories where in-laid woodworking was done and cameos were sculpted in stone and seashells. During free time, some focused their efforts on shopping or the Internet Café across the street, while some guys displayed more interest in the French girls staying at the same hotel. Breakfast was the same throughout the entire trip, bread and water [period]. There was sometimes coffee and fruit as well, but the bread never stopped coming, … and it didn’t come with butter.

Pompeii ruins

Ruins of temple near city gate to Pompeii

Ticket to PompeiiVictim of Pompeii

Ticket to Pompeii 12,000 lire ($6.86) _Victim of Mt. Vesuvius eruption

In Pompeii, we learned many things about early Roman culture including how the city was changed by inhabitants during the 1200's and early 1300's B.C., only to be buried beneath 24 feet of ash from an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Although the ancient ruins were remarkably well preserved, most of its treasures had been looted by the Spanish long ago. Walking narrow one-way streets of stone along worn paths cut by chariots, we were treated to many wonderful sights, the least of which was not the lupidaro (you’ll have to ask a trip member to explain, --it involves how foreign sailors found comfort after a long voyage at sea).

Welcome to Sicily! Now get off the bus!

After a long bus trip of many hours through southern Italy (the Calabria region) and a 45 minute ferry ride, we landed in Sicily. The hotel was a cozy family type with excellent meals, and plenty of bread. Our first excursion was to Taormina, located high on a mountainside near the active volcano of Mount Etna. Our local tour guide was exceptional in his presentation and wasted no time with his greeting. "Welcome to Taormina. My name is Angelo, now get off the bus." Angelo had a way of bringing the people and architecture of historical times back to life. He showed us how a landowner’s excavation revealed an ancient Greek theater. How Mt. Etna added to the skini (backdrop or scenery) of comedy and tragedy plays in another large Greek theater hewn from stone in the first century B.C. The theater underwent reconstruction by the Romans in the second century A.D. when brick archways and granite columns were added to the sight where more than a million cubic yards of rock had been removed. Angelo made the Public Gardens interesting and special, even to those completely disinterested in such. He also pointed out remains of a castle built high atop the mountain above this quaint town and indicated how the Spanish had been responsible for destroying many such treasures.

One evening the group enjoyed a night out at a local discoteca. The fast-moving head-pounding music never eased for a moment. Everyone had fun, including the adults who sat like statues for thirty minutes before gathering the nerve to join in. The two most capable high-steppers were Sarah ‘Lookout This is My Dance Floor’ McSweeney and Peter ‘The Dancing Greek’ Leavitt.

Group in Siricusa, Sicily
Greek aqueduct cut in limestone more than 2500 years ago and still working

In Syracuse (Siricusa), we took two different walking tours. First through ruins of another ancient Greek theater, a Roman amphitheater, and limestone quarries where slaves worked cutting stones. Thousands of captured Athenian soldiers were forced to labor until death in these underground quarries following their failed invasion of the Peloponnesian War in 413 B.C. Later the tour was through an old part of town where we visited a cathedral dedicated to St Lucy (Lucia) and attended a wedding there by chance. While some members discovered a restaurant serving 54 different varieties of pizza, others ate at one of the many gelaterias. Gelato is Italian for ice cream. The small gelaterias are everywhere in Italy. It is their version of a Dunkin' Donuts (only there are many more of them, believe it or not). Gelaterias serve different varieties of coffee, espresso, etc., and their hot chocolate is basically warm chocolate pudding. However, their cannolis, eclairs and biscotti make our half moons and jelly doughnuts look sick (okay, so that’s not hard to do).

Kids with Weapons
All weapons stay on the bus!

Travelling to Palermo, a rest stop yielded a shop where some of the students took the opportunity to arm themselves. Pistols, archery bows and even a hair-trigger ice-cream cone were gathered for protection. Unfortunately, when the bus stopped outside the famous opera house (see last reel of film Godfather 3), a sign in Italian (of course) indicated all weapons must be disarmed and carried in an unhanded manner. Needless to say the weapons stayed on the bus.

This was a wise decision, as our tour guide walked us through two different cathedrals, one in Monreale, in the mountains outside Palermo, founded by William II whom appointed a controversial archbishop here. The interior is completely decorated with gold, marble and mosaic tiles. The other cathedral in downtown Palermo, displayed remarkable marble fixtures and tombs of several historical figures, including St. Lucy.

Monreale Cathedral

While touring by bus again, our guide pointed out the many homes in the area with baskets tied to balconies of upper floor apartments. Women would lower these baskets to buy goods from street vendors rather than walk down and carry things back up. "Try that in Brooklyn," commented one group member.

Titanic Photo Op
Titanic Photo Op

An overnight ferry brought us to Naples (Napoli). The adults enjoyed conversation on topics such as cultural disparity, alternative medicine and why it was unsafe to drink tap water aboard ship. The students did their best with a poorly equipped video game arcade. Some group members modeled the romantic, and recently made famous, Titanic flying pose while others studied the scenic shoreline of Naples from the deck of the boat.

We’re going where?! In what?!

View from Anacapri
Anacapri: view of boat passing through strait

A jet boat deposited us on the shores of the Isle of Capri. Although the view from the top of the Island was breathtaking, the climb up there in a shuttle bus was equally striking. Sheer cliffs barely held what served as a road. The small town atop this pinnacle, Anacapri, consisted of more fine shops and restaurants, one of which broke Guiness Book records in seating, serving and dismissing our group. The return trip was facilitated by a tram ride back to the bottom of the cliffs where yet more shops by the seashore awaited our arrival. Cipsters were a big hit for a tasty snack found aboard the jet boat where this time hot chocolate meant hot chalk-late (add your own sugar).

This was once a magnificent temple but now it’s just a pile of rocks.

Ruins of Ancient Rome
Who did this?
The Spanish!

Arrival in Rome for the final leg of the trip yielded very nice hotel rooms with showers that flooded instead of drained. All were victims. Those with three or four people to a room suffered severely, as did the carpeting. A night bus tour through parts of the city served as a primer for what was to come. Many of the prominent landmarks and historical sights were visited, most decorated with enormous statues glorifying the human anatomy. As one member phrased it, "Don’t any of these statues wear clothes?!"

In the morning we began at the center of the city where ancient ruins of the Roman Senate, various temples and other architectural structures remained quite well preserved despite the ages (and the Spanish). Some background information was absorbed concerning the jail where St. Peter and St. Paul were held. We then began a hike to the nearby Collosseum.


Roman GladiatorSpartacus
Hey Spartacus, c’mere!

At the Colloseum, we were greeted by authentic looking Roman gladiators. Shouts of "I’m Spartacus." "No, I’m Sparatacus!" could be heard. Since the one true Sparatacus could not be singled out for crucifixion, we were all treated to a first-hand look at the inside of the gladiator arena. Fortunately the wild animals and warrior combatants had long ago faded away. Making our escape through the rear exit, we marched on to St. Peter’s inside the Vatican walls for sanctuary. Words can not describe the glory and magnitude of the many sculptures and paintings found in and around the cathedral. The treasures found there were unbelievable!

This way to the Cistine Chapel

The Vatican Museum was perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire trip. The amount, size and craftsmanship of tapestries, sculptures, paintings, jewelry, pottery, frescoes, and so on was staggering to say the least! More than one group member could be heard commenting, "No one could ever doubt that God is real after seeing all this!" Such thoughts were certainly in the minds of those lingering behind to study Michael Angelo’s frescoes in the Cistine Chapel at the end of the Vatican Museum tour.

Afterward the group visited the Trevie fountain to make a wish, the Spanish Steps (all 400+ of them), and the busy shopping district filled with high priced labels like Rolex, Gucci, Armani and McDonalds. Okay, so McDonalds was good food but cheap. Well, alright, just cheap.

Can I go as luggage? I’m not really awake!

The group made every effort to abide by the 4:30 AM start-out time for the return trip. However, not even our regular bus driver wanted any part of that! Missing the mark by only a little, the bulk of the group traveled to the airport with bags in tow and eyelids drooping. A four-hour layover helped most to catch-up on their sleep, while die-hards of a different breed took full advantage of yet another fabulous shopping opportunity at expensive but duty free stores in London’s Heathrow airport. Landing in Boston around 6:00 PM was the end of a very long 20-hour trip. One day sunny and warm Italy, the next, home sweet ... snow!

- fine -

Italy Travelers:
Mr. & Mrs. Bruneau, Mr. & Mrs. Leavitt, Mrs. Cefalu, Celeste Cefalu, Mr. Guerrera, G. Guerrera, Mr. Kelley, P. Kelly, Mrs. Tsang, Michael Tsang, Mrs. McSweeney, Sarah McSweeney, John McSweeney, MaryBeth Bruce, Joseph Fuoco, A. Carter, A. Crane, P. Dalton, A. Goggin, E. Boyle, J. Earle, B. Marrero, M. Miller, S. Praft, L. Ramseyer, F. Carter, Isaac Jordan, John Nutting, Mike Michell

New York City

Actual photo taken while driving through Times Square in my Sebring convertible