Tina Epps, veteran art instructor at Surry County High School, traveled to Switzerland and Italy with students and adults from Surry, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Windsor, Smithfield, Waverly, and Wakefield. This is Mrs. Epps’ 7th trip to Europe and 5th tour as a group leader.
“It is wonderful to see people make the connection between what they learned in school and what they encounter in Europe,” Epps says. “I love European art and architecture. I teach my students about the work of Bernini, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael. They got to see the work of these artists in person.”
Highlights of the trip included Engelberg, Lucerne, and Lugano in Switzerland; Dezenano del Garda, Verona, Venice, Assisi, Florence and Rome. Here is the travel journal with a day by day account of the adventure:
July 1 – Monday. We catch our Delta flight out of Norfolk to Atlanta and after a 5 hour layover we board Delta flight 66 to Zurich. We are meant to sleep on the 8 hour flight and arrive excited but exhausted. Our tour director, Chiara Bonari, greets us at the airport and helps us retrieve our luggage and load the Worldstrides bus. Chiara is from Florence and speaks German and English, as well as her native Italian. Gian Luca, our driver, is from Rome. He is friendly and helpful, but speaks little English.
July 2 – Tuesday. Before we arrive at our hotel in Engelberg we drive to Mt. Titlis, high in the Swiss Alps, where we take cable cars up to 9,000 feet. We feel we are on top of a snow covered world. The view is breathtaking and we need our jackets. After lunch on top of the Alps, we take the cable cars and a 360 degree rotating gondola back down to the bottom. We travel to Hotel Edelweiss where the views and hospitality are stellar. The hotel is on the mountain face and we must take elevators and tunnels to get to its lobby. It is as if we are looking at a fancy calendar or jigsaw puzzle when we look out our window. The bells from the abbey next door chime us to sleep after a dinner of curry chicken and rice.
July 3 – Wednesday. After our wake-up call and breakfast of local cheeses, yogurts, fruit, and croissants, we visit the baroque church and abbey, built around 1100, and also the cheese shop next to the hotel, and staffed by the good friars of the abbey. The restrooms near the cheese shop have a revolving toilet seat, the first of many unusual restroom configurations! We take a day trip to Lucerne, Switzerland. Lucerne is a walled city with ancient fortifications. Its Chapel Bridge is the oldest and longest covered bridge in the world. The rushing river, shopping for Swiss Army knives, and lunch of Swiss Fondue and Potato Rustice, are treats for our group. We view the Lion Monument, a carved tribute to 200 slain Swiss mercenaries. Our dinner of pork and pasta is at a local hotel.
July 4 – Thursday. We come down from the Alps and head toward the Italian Lakes. The rain is relentless, but once we get through the Gotthard Pass, the longest tunnel (14 miles long) in Europe, we come out of the tunnel and into the sunshine! The views from the bus are spectacular — waterfalls and rushing rivers at every turn. The town of Lugano looks like a postcard. This is a beautiful lakeside town where much of the economy is tourist based. Most of us eat lunch at a local Manor store which is part grocery, deli, restaurant, and department store. It is fun to shop and eat with the locals. Part of our group rent a boat to travel out on a lake, part of us take a cog train up to the top of the town. Some of the students have professional portraits drawn. We leave Lugano and drive 2 hours to the resort town of Dezanano del Garda. The Hotel City has modern rooms and our dinner is in the Al Carretto Ristorante, right on the lake.
July 5 – Friday. We get up early and drive to catch our boat to Venice. The boat ride across the lagoon to the main island is lovely. A local guide greets us in Venice. We see a glass blowing demonstration, tour the Doges Palace and step into San Marco Basilica. Part of our group walks to the Rialto Bridge, where we have lunch along the Grand Canal. Our group learns that in Italy, free restrooms and free water are hard to locate! After lunch we take a 30 minute gondola ride and marvel at the views. Our dinner is seafood pasta with mussels, fish, salad and crusty bread.
July 6 – Saturday. We board the bus and head to Verona, another medieval walled city, with its own Coliseum arena. We tour inside the arena, visit the Juliet Capulet house and museum and pose for pictures on Juliet’s balcony. As we head toward our meeting point we notice the mimes that are everywhere. We see a weird baby, strange dog, and man holding a woman aloft in an invisible chair- all mimes trying to get our Euros! We leave Verona, cross the Po River and head to Tuscany. We see beautiful crops of sunflowers and flooded rice fields. We travel through Mantova and Moderna. There are vineyards everywhere.
July 7 – Sunday. In Florence our Hotel Della Nationale has views of the Duomo and Cathedral. Our hotel is across from the train station. We visit Santa Croce (resting place of Michelangelo), the Palazzo Vecchio, Medici Palace and Duomo and Baptistery. We are busy in Florence! We see Michelangelo’s David at the Academia. We visit a top notch leather producer and experience a fun professional wine and olive oil tasting. Our dinner is of our own making! We go to a cooking school in Florence. 30 people can make their own homemade pasta, Florentine meatloaf, sauce and salad. The cooking “police” running the school only scared us for a little while! Dinner was outstanding. Some of us walk to the Ponte Vecchio and are treated to a concert on the bridge.
July 8 – Monday. We travel to Perugia and enter Assisi, where the lives of Santa Chiara and St. Francis are cherished. Approaching the Basilica and medieval city is awesome and we are greeted by Father Maximillan, who guides us. The frescos by Giotto and Cimabue line the walls and ceilings of this special place. The air and food here is breezy and delicious. We drive on to Rome where olive groves line the roadways. After hotel check-in a group of us walk to the Trevi Fountain and toss in a coin — we want to come back to Rome! The fountain is spot-lighted and gorgeous. The Atac busses and subways in Rome are welcome and not intimidating. The Hotel Albani resembles the Star Ship Enterprise! We say good bye to Gian Luca, our bus driver. He has been kind and patient with us and we give him a gift before he leaves us.
July 9 – Tuesday. Our last day in Rome. We travel to meet our tour guide and get to go inside the Coliseum. We love the ancient, cold fountains where we drink and fill our water bottles. We are awed by the Basilica of St. Peter where we can see work by Raphael and Michelangelo’s sorrowful Pieta. The Sistine Chapel gets most of our attention and we get a long look at Michelangelo’s ceiling and Altar Wall. We go into the Roman Forum and see where Julius Caesar is murdered and memorialized. On the way back, a group of pick pockets is busy on the bus. They manage to get one of our cell phones. During our dinner we give Chiara Bonari a gift to show her our appreciation for her hard work. She has taken good care of us and we will miss her.
July 10 – Wednesday. Our 5 o’clock wake-up call is brutal. Chiara gets us to the airport in Rome where we say good bye and pass through customs. We board our long flight back to the States, where as Americans we take much for granted. Our journey was amazing.