I travelled to Rome many years ago with my family and since then I have always wanted to take students there – call it No. 1 on my Teacher’s Bucket list. The history, culture and religious undertones that floods through Rome is just captivating and inspiring. The problem was organising such a big trip! Now maybe it is the philosophy teacher in me but sometimes in life it feels like a window of opportunity opens…well that is exactly what it felt like on a college conference at the end of last school year when I got talking to Claire -a local R.S. HOD who mentioned an upcoming college trip to Rome in 2019. Spotting this opportunity I just casually said ‘Oh well if you need anymore to join you just let me know.’ Well you guessed it…in September I got the email that invited 10 of my students to join them on a 5 day trip to Rome (and me of course)!
Now I don’t know if any of you have organised such a trip before but it is like opening Pandora’s box of tasks from collecting payments, passports details, organising a presentation evening, sending endless emails and updates to students and parents, not to mention filling out all the paperwork, risk assessments and codes of conduct…my list went on. My saving grace was Claire, who had not only run a similar trip before but organised all the Rome elements from itinerary, accommodation, to transport and trips. Before we knew it the date had arrived, we were all packed and ready (wearing our Rome hoodies, armed with passports and even some homemade cookies and flapjacks from one Mum) and off we went to the airport.
We met the other college at the airport, seamlessly went through customs, had an amazingly easy flight and we were in ROME! Once bags were collected, we met our tour guide and coach and headed to the Catacombs were we wandered through the maze of underground tunnels, studied the art work and remaining visible relics and listened to the history of the many Christian Martyrs and pontiffs once buried there (with some still remaining). Once leaving the labyrinth of passageways (I would not want to get lost down there!) and re-entering the warmth outside we made our way to our hotel.
Up the winding roads towards our hotel, we were surrounded by epic views of Lake Albano, the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo and Rome itself. Our hotel, Villa Palazzola a 13th century Cistercian monastery, was absolutely breath-taking! What a privilege to stay somewhere that housed monks and friars for centuries. Once unpacked we settled in for the evening, lounging on the beautiful terrace together whilst the students played cards.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast with homemade bread, chocolate brioche and cereals, we made our way into the heart of Rome towards the Vatican City. Once in the Vatican, headsets at the ready we started our journey towards the Sistine Chapel. This was one of the best but most stressful experiences of my whole life! Trying to herd 32 students through hordes of tourists, who often wandered off to take pictures, whilst trying to not lose sight of the front of the group was…interesting! All went to plan though, students took some amazing pictures, I sweated off a stone and we were able to capture a snapshot into the immense beauty and historical wonder that lay within the Vatican walls (it would take days to experience it all!)
There was then a choice between having a leisurely lunch or going up to the top of the Vatican to see the views of Rome…it was a no brainer (I didn’t think it through!!). So off a few of us went to join the queue for the lift up to the top…or so I thought it was the top. Once out of the lift we got to experience the first floor views including the architecture and artistry on the ceilings up close.
The rest of the journey then had to be made on foot. Now I am not scared of heights nor do I experience vertigo or claustrophobia but climbing what felt like an endless spiral staircase, that got tighter and tighter and started to slant, well my whole ‘teacher’ decorum fell apart and it was the students who had to coax and support me up to the top (and by the top I mean a spiral staircase that was so tight that there was a rope hanging down to drag yourself up with!!) Once at the top….
Surprisingly coming down wasn’t as hard, maybe because the human traffic was moving a lot slower or just because we were descending. Either way I made it!!
We then made our way back to the hotel, the students dispersed into the common room, games room and the outside terrace to chat together…we teachers headed to the library for a bit of downtime.
Next day we headed to the Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre ever built that could hold around 65,000 spectators who came to watch gladiator contests, executions and re-enactments. In smaller groups we broke off and dodging the rain and thunder storms we made our way around the Colosseum, taking many photos to document our time there.
And the seriously bad…
We then had a soggy walk around the Roman Forum, a site filled with ancient government buildings that once housed trials, elections and public speeches. The variety of different buildings and columns still visible today was fascinating and I would definitely like to venture back there one day when it is sunny.
That evening we enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant, so students got to indulge themselves on a selection of pizzas, whilst the staff enjoyed antipasti, pizza and battered calamari and prawns (Yum!)
The next morning we had a very early start (leaving at 6.00am) in order to secure some good seats to see the General Audience with the Pope. After eating our packed breakfasts and soaking in the atmosphere of the ever increasing crowds, before we knew it the announcements started. As the speaker greeted guests from all over the world, the Pope made his rounds through the crowds in his Pope mobile, interacting with his audience, kissing babies and waving happily. As the excited chatter built and a sea of mobile phones were raised, the Pope made his way towards our side of the crowd and guess who had front row seats…us!!
And we even got a thumbs up! It really was a very special moment being able to share this with students – a memory that will last a lifetime.
As the day warmed up, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain, following the traditional practice of throwing in a coin and enjoying ice cream (I had limoncello and mint choc chip. They were so good two of my students got seconds!).
It also happened to be my birthday, so that evening I was surprised with banners (21 and 65 as that was all they could find – I prefer the 21!), homemade cake with candles and sung Happy Birthday. What a way to end an amazing trip!
A big thanks to Claire for organising the trip and to all the students who were absolutely brilliant throughout! It really was everything (and more) that I had hoped for.
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