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  • Welcome to our blog!

    We're Lauren and Leanna Winstead, and we're math teachers at Heritage High! We also coach the women's tennis team, and Leanna co-advises National Honor Society, while Lauren advises Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the sophomore Student Government class. But, every summer, we take trips around the world with our Huskies! On this site, you can find information about upcoming trips and you can keep up with us as we travel! Feel free to e-mail us anytime using the link above. Bon voyage!

Okay, okay.  I stole that hashtag from EF Tours.  It’s close to the one Leanna used when she was on her training trip to Rome back in 2014, and I just couldn’t resist.  It’s too good.

On Tuesday, we finally made it to Rome!  The drive from Florence wasn’t bad at all, and we headed straight for the Vatican.  Summer is already peak season for Vatican visits, but little did we know, Wednesday would also be St. Peter’s Day, which you can imagine would be a big deal since the Vatican is home to that basilica named after (drumroll, please) ST. PETER.  Georgia told us the day is pretty much as important as Christmas for Catholics and that even though the Vatican would be closed on Wednesday, people would be traveling quite a bit to Rome and it would only increase traffic on our day.  So, we battled quite a crowd!  But, EF is nothing if not exceptional at logistics, so we had a reservation and a really amazing local tour guide named Susanna!  She not only told us more than we could ever hope to know about the city, but also expertly guided our large group of 43 through some of the thickest crowds I’ve ever seen.  Truly a unique experience!

My cousin, Robert, used his height to our advantage!  He held up Georgia’s Greek flag for us to follow so we could all make our way inside together.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica!

If you’ve been to New York City, you may recognize that sculpture out front, which has a twin at the US United Nations building.

Susanna and her pink scarf on a stick were everything we could have asked for in a tour guide!

Almost all the walls of the Vatican are covered in beautiful tapestries, paintings, and frescos, and I think you could walk through a thousand times and see something new every time.  It’s overwhelming, but also amazing!  We learned that “frescos” get their name because they are painted on wet plaster, which makes them fresh (the meaning of the word).  The plaster has to be wet, because after it dries, no changes can be made!

This room is full of statues of gods, which I thought was an interesting choice for a building dedicated to Christianity.  But, they were amazing to look at!

This statue of Hercules was one of the only ones made out of bronze at the time it was created, and when Rome was attacked, attempts to melt it down failed.  So, it is preserved here as a symbol of Roman perseverance!

We wore headphones a LOT on this trip!  With a large group and quiet spaces, our tour guides often used what are called Whispers, which allow them to talk into a microphone and transmit what they’re saying over radio waves to headsets that the group wears.  Simple and effective!

Many of the ceilings were just as impressive (if not more so) as the walls!

Here’s the famous Pieta by Michelangelo!  It depicts Mary holding Jesus’s dead body, and it sits behind glass in St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was attacked and damaged in the seventies, which is why it’s heavily protected now, but it’s been almost completely restored.

By the way, when we walked into St. Peter’s we got to walk through the same Holy Doors that the Pope walks through when he leads services there.  To know he would do so on St. Peter’s Day the very next day was truly amazing!

Normally, this statue of St. Peter is not quite as elegantly dressed, but it was a special occasion!

Back outside, we enjoyed some beautiful views!

By this time, it was after 3:00 and we had had breakfast around 7:00 AM!  The kids had grabbed snacks while we were on the road from Florence, but still, we were pretty famished!  As is the case in pretty much all of Italy, there were great little cafes everywhere, and I had this tasty risotto with mussels for lunch.  Many others had their third and fourth plates of pizza and spaghetti!

After leaving Vatican City, we walked around Rome and enjoyed some free time to rest, get coffee or gelato, and enjoy each other.

We spent quite a bit of time in Piazza Navona, which has this beautiful fountain in the middle and is lined with gorgeous outdoor cafes.

The statue in this piazza faces a church, and there are four figures on it, none of whom are looking at the church.  The sculptor of this fountain and the sculptor of the figures on the church were in a bit of an argument, and none of their statues are looking at each other!  Talk about passive aggressive!

We enjoyed espresso and snacks at this little cafe after our long day at the Vatican!

Our waiter, Alessandro, was pretty fascinated with this chatty group of Americans!

We finished the day back at the hotel for dinner, which was a lasagna that the kids DEVOURED.  They were begging for it again the next day!

I’ll finish this post with your 2016-2017 Student Body President, already taking her new role pretty darn seriously.

See you tomorrow for our last day in Italy!

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I have to say, when our tour consultant, Sue, called me about a week before we left and asked me what I was most looking forward to on this trip, I told her that I really wanted to know what all the fuss was about with Florence!  I knew SO MANY people who had been all over Italy and told me Florence was their favorite, and I just didn’t understand why!  It seemed like Rome would have everything Florence had, plus the major landmarks, and who wouldn’t love Venice or Milan?  But, now I think I get it.  As soon as you step on the street, it get a ahold of you, and it’s just beyond charming.  Everywhere you look is a postcard, and I told one of the students that even though most cities can vary from block to block as far as safety and even curb appeal, Florence really is beautiful from one end to the other.  It was a perfect way to start our journey in Italy!

When we first arrived, we were pretty hungry, even though it was late at night!  We found an open cafe near our hotel and had Italian spaghetti and pizza for the first time, and they were everything we hoped they’d be!  We stayed at Hotel Olimpia in the Piazza della Repubblica, and there was a carousel nearby, so you know the kids had fun on that!

The next morning, we started our big tour of Florence!  Here’s the square where we stayed.

Then, we headed for the Duomo, one of the largest churches in Florence!


Nicolo was our brave local tour guide, and he took us all over downtown Florence!

He even told us a little about the piazza where we were staying, which quite literally commemorates the “city rising from squalor to a new life.”

We even found a little bridal magazine shoot going on!

Here’s our hotel, which Georgia told us we were very lucky to get!  Apparently, she has never had a group be able to stay so close to the middle of the city!

And that little cafe at the bottom of the picture is where we had spaghetti and pizza the first night.

This boar is located near a marketplace, and apparently it’s good luck to touch its nose!  Has anyone ever heard of this before?  I literally have never.

We made it to Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge not destroyed during World War Two.  It crosses the River Arno, and it’s lined with little cafes and shops.  It was a beautiful place to stop and take pictures!

Then, we walked along another piazza full of statues commemorating some of Italy’s most famous sons, including Machiavelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Vespucci.

This statue of David is actually an exact replica, but we weren’t able to see the real thing because it’s located in a state museum, which are all closed on Mondays.

This statue of Medusa being beheaded is particularly pleasing.

Then, we got to go to a leather-making demonstration!  Marco showed us how to tell the difference between real and fake leather, and he gave us 10% off at Leonardo Leather nextdoor!  So, some of you might be getting some pretty swanky souvenirs, and I have to offer my deepest apologies if your kids are now unapologetic leather snobs, because they can officially tell if it’s the real thing or plastic.

We were able to get our initials stamped in gold foil or burned into the leather if we wanted!

More sightseeing!  This is Dante, and Italian author of whom I am not a real big fan.  (Thanks, Western Civ.)

Lunch was a delicious salad and some amazing herb chicken!

After lunch, the kids had free time and I decided to climb the bell tower of the Duomo with Heather and Robert.  All 414 steps.  After lunch.  One of my more brilliant ideas.

But the view was worth it!

One thing’s for sure, everyone has had plenty of gelato!

After some free time, we made our way to Pisa!  I was surprised to see how small of a town it was, and how it really was all about the tower.  I assumed it was in a bustling city, but not really!

We met up with our local guide, and she showed us around the nearby church!

aaaaaaaand those of us in tank tops got to wear these lovely paper sheets to cover our shoulders.  Stunning.

Lauren, Paige, and Rachael wanted me to tell you they’re not mad, sad, or bored, just listening intently!

Cliche Leaning Tower of Pisa picture time!  I wish I had gotten a picture of all the kids, but we had to spread out a bit to give everyone a turn.  One of the funniest things about visiting the tower is all the crazy poses you see people making, which look to be out of thin air!

Even though Pisa is small, it’s still beautiful!

Dinner was (of course) lots of delicious Italian food!  Many chose pizza, some chose more spaghetti, and I chose eggplant.  Tomorrow, I get to show you around our first day in Rome!  Ciao!

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Right now, we’re on our way to Rome!  We had a beautiful, action-packed day in Florence yesterday – so much so that I crashed in my bed at the end of the day and am still working on a big Florence post!  So for now, I’m going to post just a few pictures from the ferry ride over to Italy and save my Florence post for tomorrow.  Sorry to make you wait, but that just means one extra day of blogging! 🙂  (Also, I took about 400 pictures yesterday, so I promise it’ll be worth it.)

We got to the ferry station (which looks pretty much like an airport) in Greece on Saturday night and had several hours to just enjoy each other’s company and wander through the Duty-Free shops a bit.  Our ferry didn’t leave Greece until around 2:00 AM, but we were all in our cabins around midnight, tired and ready for some sleep!  Most people slept four to a cabin, with two beds lofted, so Georgia had helped us ahead of time by asking us to pack exactly what we would need in a backpack and leave the rest in our suitcases.  We had everything with us, but there was no way four suitcases could be open at the same time in those rooms!  I wish I had taken a picture of them, but I’m sure your kids will describe them to you!  Being on the ferry was a wonderful change of scenery, but several of us took advantage of that time and caught up on some sleep!

Both breakfast and lunch were provided on the ferry, and since it was a Greek ship, we got to enjoy a bit more Greek food before we landed in Italy!

Around 5:00 PM on Sunday, we were out of our cabins and in a holding area ready to make our way onto land!  The kids were thrilled!  (There were comfy airplane seats in there, so some were actually still asleep.)

We made it to Ancona!  Once we arrived, we met our bus driver, Angelo, who started us on the five-hour drive to Florence!  The countryside was beautiful, though, and we watched Mamma Mia on the bus to soak up just 90 more minutes of Greece.

Lots of naps took place during that drive, so once we got to Florence, the kids were wide awake and hungry!  We took them out for late night spaghetti and pizza near the hotel, which they raved about.  More on that tomorrow!

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Phew!  Thank you for your patience while we were living on a wifi-less boat for about 17 hours!  But, we’ve officially made it to Italy and are enjoying breakfast before spending the day exploring Florence!  But first, I need to cover our last day in Greece before we hopped on the boat!

We started out in the Meteora region near our hotel, where some locals showed us how they use gold foil to create “icons” that they use to decorate their homes.  To my knowledge, they’re not necessarily of Biblical figures, but I think most have a religious connection.

Afterward, we started driving through the mountains of Meteora, and NONE of us were prepared for how beautiful it would be!  Every turn was more and more breathtaking.

This monastery was actually used in a James Bond film!  To build it, the monks had to use a system of pulleys, and to some extent they still use it to bring supplies up.

We stopped at several lookouts along the way to take pictures!

Next, we stopped at the Varlaam Monastery to take a tour!  You can already see how high we had to climb, but it actually wasn’t that much more strenuous than Delphi had been.

Before there were stairs and a system of roads, they used to bring visitors and supplies up and down in these baskets!

This is the tank where they stored their water supply before plumbing was installed, and it would collect thousands of gallons of rainwater at a time.

You can see how high up we were!

Maria was our local guide for this stop, and she did an awesome job!  I have no idea how any of our guides memorize that much information!

Bailey in particular was super fascinated with the monks who worked at the monastery, so I call this photo series, “Bailey Lends a Hand.”

Our resident emergency nurse, probably grateful he doesn’t actually work here.

After visiting the monastery, we moved on toward lunch and our next destination!  It’s a little hard to see, but in the lower right corner of that rock face, you can see scarves are tied up in a small cave.  That’s a tribute to St. George!  Every year, women tie scarves to that cave to pay homage to him on his “name day”, which Georgia told us is just as important as a birthday in Greece!  Everyone has a “name day,” which is when the saint associated with your name is honored.

Lunchtime!

Not a bad view, if I do say so myself!

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We got to choose from several dishes for lunch, but a bunch of us chose this eggplant and beef casserole with potatoes au gratin on top.  It’s a traditional Greek dish and is absolutely incredible!

After lunch, we continued our drive through the countryside of Greece.  Our destination was Iannocona, but because our group had been so punctual that day, we got to make an extra stop in a beautiful little town called Mostovo!

We enjoyed a little break from the bus, some gelato and espresso, and some shopping!

Back on the bus!  This is where things got… loud.  Georgia encouraged us to have a bus sing-along, so we all participated in extremely noisy renditions of Adele, Rihanna, and a bunch of other artists who we now owe apology letters.  Trust me, there are incriminating and hilarious videos of this!

Both Malik and Chris were brave enough to lead the sing-along!

We made it to Iannacona!  This little lakeside town is downright gorgeous, and every turn looks like something straight out of a movie.  We had finally escaped the touristy shops and found some authentic Greek stores!

As a teacher, I’m always flattered when my students ask to take pictures with me, so you’ll have to indulge me for the next few pictures!  Sorry, but #WhenInRome (or not).

There was even a boxing match happening between kids from the local academy!  It was precious!

After that, we headed toward the ferry!  Pictures from the boat and our first day in Florence tomorrow!

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This morning was an early one for us, and I have to admit, it was hard to leave Athens behind!  We departed around 7:30 AM this morning for a three and a half hour bus ride to the Meteora region of Greece, which is pretty far northeast.  We’re just planning to spend one day here before heading off to Italy!

As we traveled through the mountains of Greece (which are breathtaking, by the way), we made a few stops at gas stations for snacks and a chance to use the restroom.  But these are not like gas stations in the United States!  They’re often well-decorated and sell authentic Greek snack foods, including honey-sesame peanuts and olives!  We didn’t see a whole lot of the Spanish-influenced architecture in Athens, so I was excited to see more buildings like that along the way.

Georgia, our tour director, explained to us along the way that if you want to purchase good olive oil, you should do it in one of three places – Greece, Italy, or Spain.  She said the average Greek citizen consumes 15 kilograms (or 33 pounds) of olive oil in a year!  But, she said people on her island of Crete consume more like 50 kilograms (110 pounds!) of olive oil in one year!  On her own property, she has 100 olive trees, which produce about 1000 kilograms of olive oil per year.  She said she, like most people, prefers not to harvest the olive oil herself, she she allows workers on her property to harvest it for her, and they get to keep 900 kilograms of it for themselves to sell.  In return for working on her property, she gets to keep the other 100 and has all she needs for the year!  Sounds like a pretty sweet deal!

Along the way, we stopped at St. Luke’s Monastery, which is a working 1000-year old monastery.  It was beautifully set in the Greek mountains, and we enjoyed exploring it for about an hour.  But it was WINDY up there!  And this is not an exaggeration – that kind of wind is exactly the kind that would trigger a tornado watch/warning in North Carolina!

Wait, did we all just buy the same ill-fitting olive green skirt?  No, we all just wore shorts, which is a no-go at most monasteries.  But I actually think most of the girls rocked this look!

Aside from the architecture being beautiful, the monastery is beautifully decorated with potted plants everywhere!  One of the other group leaders commented that I was taking a lot of pictures of plants, but who can blame me?  They’re beautiful and they don’t accidentally blink!

Sorry, Ryan.  We all knew this picture was going to be a perfect representation of the wind when it was taken!  Haha!

After leaving the monastery, we traveled through the ski resort town of Arahova, which is just the most picturesque place you’ve ever seen!  I didn’t get to take too many pictures of it from the bus, but you can just picture Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow spending their winters hitting the slopes here.  There are locals, of course, but the town is mostly empty right now, just waiting on those celebrities to arrive when it gets cold!

After driving through Arahova, we met up with our local tour guide, Kristina, for a tour of Delphi!  She called Delphi “the bellybutton of the world,” because it’s where so many of the early philosophers and great thinkers came to innovate and try to one-up each other on their ideas!  So, it’s basically a mountain garden of statues and buildings designed to inspire people to higher thought.

Delphi had a great museum, but it’s also about a 1.5 steep mountain hike.  You can easily tell that most of the students in our group play at least one sport, because the word, “museum” went in one ear and out the other!  Straight to the top they went!

(Almost) everyone who made it to the top!  Bailey’s Fitbit told us it equaled 63 flights of stairs (not quite sure about that one, but maybe 30 or 40), and my phone told me we had taken 7,900 steps!

At the top was an old Greek stadium!  Some kids asked me what they played there.  I told them football and lacrosse. #oftenwrongbutneverindoubt

Lots of the places we’ve visited have sold frozen lemonade and juice, which has been tasty on these hot days!

For lunch, we drove back to Arahova and enjoyed different dishes, like Greek salad, baked rooster, chicken fillets, and eggplant!

On to Meteora!  Much of the next hour of our trip involved crossing very steep mountains, so we just tried not to look down!  Soon enough, we were on the other side!

One of the coolest places we stopped was the site of Leonidas’s battle against the Persians.  If you’ve seen the movie, 300, this is where that took place!  So, THIS. IS. SPARTA!  It actually is!  (Fun fact: the UNCG admissions office liked my tweet about yesterday’s blog post.  #gospartans)

We finally made it to our hotel in the Meteora region around dinnertime!  There’s not much here, so it really is a layover on our way to Italy, but we enjoyed a delicious dinner of veggies, watermelon, and pork with potatoes!

Today, we’ll do lots of sightseeing in northern Greece before we head for Italy!  I think our kids are super excited to finally cross that border!  See you tomorrow!

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