Ciao! From March 21-25, 2018 I went on a training tour for first-time tour leaders with Education First (EF) Tours. I am taking a group of 40 students to Europe with EF this summer. Part of their program, is to offer teachers a "practice" tour before taking their own group. I must say, the training was essential to preparing for a student trip. They ran through every possible "what if?" situation to make sure that all of us were ready for our student tours. Below, I will go into what the trip included.
DAY 1 - Overnight flight to Rome
When I say EF is prepared for everything, I mean it. My flight was originally scheduled on Delta to leave DIA at 11:30 AM for JFK with a 2-hour layover, and then on to Rome. However, winter storm "Toby" had my flight canceled 2 hours before departure. Now, EF was already aware that this was a possibility. They had informed me about 24 hours before that cancellation was a possibility. Within 10 minutes of cancellation (while I was in line to check my bag), Delta and EF had me rescheduled on a flight to Detroit > Amsterdam > Rome.
The flight only landed 2 hours after my original scheduled landing AND Delta upgraded me to first class on my first leg, SCORE! Again, EF is prepared for anything that can happen and will happen. I'm not sure if you know this but, Delta now includes free text messaging on board (I found this neat) and I was able to update my co-teacher that I would not be able to Skype in for conferences. First two flights were great, I made it to Amsterdam, bought some essential items (stroopwafels) and got on my final flight to Rome.
DAY 2 - Arrival in Rome
EF did a fantastic job of preparing us for arrival. They sent us information about themselves, as well as what to do from the moment your plane touches the ground. I was told that once I exited baggage claim, I would see a consultant wearing a red EF shirt. We were the "red team". There were multiple EF groups landing around the same time, so I was looking for the red team. As I came down the escalator, before baggage claim, I saw the first representative. She was holding a large EF sign, knew my name, and told me which baggage claim to grab my bag at. She told me where to wait for her after I grabbed my bag as she waited for three others to land.
After a total of five more people landed, they put us in a cab with a tour leader and took us to our hotel- Hotel Grand Tiberio. We were able to check-in and freshen up and were given a time to meet back in the lobby. Our tour leader got us an Uber into the center of Rome, where we had about an hour to explore before meeting up with the other groups. We decided to get some delicious street sandwiches; mine was made with focaccia, some salty prosciutto type ham (I'm not sure, it was in Italian), arugula, and Parmesan. We then met up at our "meeting point" (some fountain covered in bird poo) and introduced ourselves to the other group members and tour leaders. We met our Tour Director, Linda, a lovely Italian woman who has lived in Rome her entire life.
She took us on a short walk to the Pantheon - the best preserved Ancient Roman building in Italy.
On the outside of the Pantheon, she gave us a quick history lesson on what we would see on the inside (the grave of Raphael, several Italian kings, and poets, the giant oculus - there are no windows, the floor is still the original marble). Linda also informed us of the affair Raphael had and how, even though he was promised to another woman, he chose to marry his mistress. Apparently, he was promised to the daughter of a powerful cardinal and he chose to continuously delay his marriage, so as not to anger the cardinal, but actually married his mistress in secret.The grave of the woman, Marie, whom he was promised to, is marked next to his. However, she is not actually buried there.
After a tour of the Pantheon, we were given free time to explore for a couple of hours. This awesome guy, Matt, one of the travelers and a history teacher took us to a couple of cool spots.
Apparently, this is the site Julius Ceasar was killed. He was stabbed 23 times on March 15, 44 B.C. (beware the Ides of March).
The "Wedding Cake Monument", no idea of its purpose, all I know is it was built by the king who unified Italy. And also, that Linda said she hated it because it was built in 1911 and mimicked Ancient Rome, it is new and she didn't like it because it wasn't "authentic".
After free time, we went to our welcome dinner where we had lasagna and pizza. They also collected our tips (for the bus drivers, local guides, and tour director). Then, they took us back to the hotel and told us to get some rest for our tour of the Vatican the next day.
DAY 3 - Vatican City
Breakfast was from 7:00- 8:00 AM and was included every day on tour. Of course, European breakfast's are not like American breakfast's. They offered an assortment of meats, cheese, pastries, espresso, and juice (typical in Europe). At 8:00, our classroom session started. From 8:00-10:30, our EF consultants and experienced tour leaders (other teachers who have run several tours) went over on-tour expectations with a Q&A session (SUPER beneficial). After the classroom session, we had 15 minutes to freshen up and meet up for our trip to Vatican City. Beforehand, Linda was sure to inform us of the expectations for the Vatican tour- women must have shoulders and knees covered and we could not bring backpacks. It was cold, so this wasn't a problem, but if you are taking kids in the middle of summer, it is, of course, essential to go over dress code with them. They will not be let in if skin is exposed (you will see people selling scarves outside the entrance).
When we were dropped off outside of the Vatican city walls, we were able to bypass the very long line that wrapped around the outside. When traveling with EF, you get to skip all of the lines (amazing)! Linda took us to a meeting spot, where our local guide, Franco, was waiting for us. He was very excited to be taking a group of teachers through the Vatican.
On the inside, we were given headsets that Franco could talk to us through and entrance tickets. Once inside, Franco took us to a spot outside to tell us everything we would see inside the Sistine Chapel. Then, he took us through the long hallways full of sculptures, paintings, gold leafing, tapestries, and more. It is absolutely breathtaking.
There is no talking inside the Chapel, as it is a holy place and silence shows respect. Before we went inside, Franco very passionately described to us the history of the Sistine Chapel. In summary, Pope Julius II commissioned the famous sculptor, Michaelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He would have no one else. When he asked Michaelangelo, he said something along the lines of "it must be you, there is no one else," and Michaelangelo basically said, "I'm a sculptor, not a painter." Long story short, he was forced to do it but agreed reluctantly under the condition that it be done his way. Now when you walk in, the paintings are upside down, because they are meant to be seen from the door of the Pope (on the opposite side). The paintings on the ceiling consist of nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, from the Bible. Here's an image from the interwebs - you can't take photos inside:
From left to right is the story of history as Michaelangelo saw it. This is also the first time someone painted God, people always painted Jesus Christ, but this was the first time he was pictured as a man. Now for the actual paintings: the first frame is of God pushing aside light and dark, the second the creation of the sun and planets, the third, God divides water from the earth, the fourth is the creation of Adam, the fifth is the creation of Eve, the sixth represents when Adam and Eve are tempted and are sent from Eden, the last three represent the three stories of Noah (Noah's family make a sacrifice after the flood, the flood, and Noah is drunk and disgraced). Michaelangelo created the scenes in reverse chronological order. There are 343 figures on the ceiling and it took him four years. On the back wall of the chapel, Michaelangelo painted The Last Judgement of Christ when he was 63 years old, it took him 5 years. At the center, you see Christ in a very powerful stance ready to serve people their final judgment in life. All I can say is, it was a very spiritual and impactful.
After the Sistine Chapel, we were taken into St. Peter's Basilica. It is the largest church in the world and regarded as one of the holiest shrines in the Catholic religion. On the outside, you will see the "holy door," only opened by the Pope on a year deemed holy (a jubilee year).
The basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter and most of the Popes from history. On the inside, you will see the tombs of previous Popes, as well as many intricate mosaics that the Ancient Romans were famous for.
Outside we were able to witness the changing of the guard. Fun fact, the guards are Swiss guards, not really sure why (maybe because they are neutral). The only people allowed in that gate are Vatican citizens - the Vatican is technically the smallest country in the world - and females with a Swiss passport (also something I didn't quite understand).
The chairs were being set up in preparation for the Pope's mass on Palm Sunday.
After all of that, we were able to visit a small souvenir shop where anything that was purchased would be blessed by a Vatican priest. I bought my mom a beautiful cross hand-painted with 24k gold. She was very appreciative.
Linda then took us back to the city center where we were given free time until 10:30PM. During free time, Matt took us all around Rome, some of the sights we had already seen, some we would see the following day, but to see them at night was very cool. He is a history teacher and had been to Rome several times. Some of the sights we saw:
DAY 3 - The Roman Colluseum and Forum
On day three, we, of course, had breakfast and then went to classroom session two. This classroom session focused on "pre-tour expectations" and it was again very informative. After the classroom session, we were given 15 minutes to get ready for our walking tour of the Roman Colluseum and Forum.
We started our day with a short walking tour with Linda where she took us to the Spanish Steps and told us about the design between the French and Spanish.
Then she took us to the Trevi Fountain (not Las Vegas) where we were given a quick break for lunch. After lunch, she walked us over to the Colluseum.
There, we met Stefano, our local guide. He was great. He took us inside the Colluseum where we learned about the architecture and all purposed it served.
You can see the many levels of the Colluseum and if you can see the people in the picture, you realize how large it was. It seated between 50,000 and 80,000 people. As you probably know, Gladiators fought here. What I found interesting is that they (the Romans) did not want Gladiators to die, because training them was very expensive and extensive. The purpose was to put on a show, not to kill.
Stefano then took us to the Roman Forum. There are so many things that the Forum is famous for. For a very long time, it served as the central location for day to day life in Rome. It served as a marketplace, grounds for chariot races, a place for public execution and criminal trials, where elections happened, and so much more.
We then bid Stefano goodbye and met back up with Linda for our farewell dinner. We had a fabulous 4-course dinner: meat and cheese plate, a Parmesan pasta, chicken and veggies, and a tiramisu for dessert. After dinner, we were given 40 minutes to do our last exploring of the city. Matt (the awesome history teacher) took us to Castle Sant'Angelo.
DAY 4 - Departure
EF ran three different shuttles to the airport depending on the departure time. Both Linda and our tour leader, Kelsy, were there to say goodbye to us. They gave us a bag breakfast and sent us on our way back to the USA. I flew Alitalia on the way home, I wouldn't recommend them as an airline. They are financially bankrupt and all look angry at life. BUT, I got home safely.
I had a great time and recommend to any teacher looking into EF travel to do it. They really do cover everything you need to know about bringing kids to a foreign country.