I am sure you all frantically refreshed your browsers last night in hopes of a blog that would capture the smiling faces of the students off on their adventure. I can promise you that there were no shortages of smiles and wonderful stories of the triumphant journey across the pond. However, to spare you the delusional ravings of a madman, I decided to wait until I could write something a bit more eloquent….. or, to be honest, just a complete sentence!
Our journey began with smooth flights and only minor delays on the tarmac. The excitement grew strong as we waited in Charlotte for our long flight to Rome. The students grabbed their last taste of Chic-Fil-A, Burger King, Bojangles, and California PIZZA Kitchen, because of course they would not have that for 10 days…. Some of our travelers, taking full advantage of the absence of the proverbial cat, decided that Monster Energy drinks and Redbulls were the best choice of hydration prior to 9 hours in a confined space. I am positive we could have powered the turbines with some Flintstonian rigging.
We boarded the plane and seats were exchanged to optimize the experience. I had the fortune to be seated next to a young man of NA whose love of goldfish far extends his ability to contain each piece of the delectable treat within his mouth. Nevertheless, he turned out to be great airplane companion. After a quick game of trivia between some of the students and myself (utter domination from yours truly I might add), we all went our separate ways and chose from an endless supply of movies to occupy the time….. allow me to fast forward, for the next 8 hours and 45 minutes are filled with the seemingly endless blue glow of screens or, for the lucky few, the deep darkness behind closed eyes.
We touched down in Rome, and received our Stamps of Victory as we passed through passport control. Now the journey truly begins. For most of our students, this is the first time they have been in a foreign country and dealt with a language barrier. We walked to our terminal and the students, starving and running on fumes, were faced with a challenge. Long gone are the typical fast food chains, and in there resides a long glass display at the Mercedes Benz Bar. With drooling mouths and dead stares, they marveled at the prosciutto and mozzarella stuffed paninis, cornetti (Italian croissants) overflowing with custard and nutella, and massive hunks of pizza topped with everything from salami, mushrooms, and…. lettuce?! But how does one obtain this forbidden fruit! One by one they would come to us and ask, “How do we order?” Each student was met with the same answer; “You must order in Italian.” As adorable as their innocent faces were when they asked their initial question, the priceless face of sheer terror and dread coupled with the desire to satiate their starving bellies takes the cake! It was amazing to watch each student muscle up the nerve to stand in line and have the confidence to speak in a foreign language to a complete stranger. I believe it is safe to say that not all 13/14 year olds possess this rare courage. I could not have been more proud of their achievement.
With full bellies, we boarded our flight for a quick puddle jump to Palermo, Sicily. We felt a little bit like rockstars or celebrities when we turned the corner out of security and saw Lillo, our driver, standing with a sign that read NORFOLK ACADEMY. We set off to Erice and after crawling up 2500 feet of winding switch back roads, we explored the ancient walled city, discovered the ruins of the Castle of Venus, and rewarded our travelers with a well earned gelato break.
From Erice, we drove to Casale del Gulfo, our first hotel, but none of us could have imagined what was waiting for us upon arrival. We sat at our tables, expecting a dinner of pasta or pizza served family style. Instead, the meal that followed could have rivaled the lavish and gluttonous banquets often seen in films. We were treated to a sumptuous Italian dinner consisting of four courses…
First course: Antipasti – bruschetta topped with roasted tomatoes, zucchini spread, or artichoke spread; grilled breaded zucchini; fresh mozzarella, pecorino, and ricotta cheese; stuffed mushroom; olives, artichoke hearts, and assorted mushrooms in oil, mini eggplant parmesan, Caponata….. dishes were almost endless.
Second course: Pasta – Busiata a la trapanese : a homemade spiral-shaped fresh pasta with a light red sauce with almonds and chopped garlic.
Third Course: Carne – a platter of chicken, beef, and pork pounded thin, breaded and fried. Oh and I almost forgot about the mountain of sausage!
Fourth course: a refreshing cup of fresh cut melons, oranges, apples, kiwis, and mangos.
To say we ate our fill is an understatement! After dinner came the moment we had been waiting for the past 29 hours of traveling…bed time. Rooms were assigned and the students raced up the stairs for the first shower. Some were heard murmuring that they were not tired and, “Let’s pull an all nighter.” All I know is that you could have heard a pin drop from the bottom floor of the hotel after no more than 10 minutes of the doors closing behind them.
The much needed, and much deserved, rest will serve them well when we continue our adventure and travel to see the beautiful temple and theatre in Segesta, the quarry in Cave di Cusa, and the temple complex of Selinunte!
P.S. Be sure to follow along on Instagram and Twitter: @NAintlprograms