Rome, Athens are fine, but nothing beats home

Greenbrier High School students Michael Martin (from left), Matt Gooding, Michael Ryan (a Teen Board member), Whitney Hughey, Shane Hernandez and Chris Cliatt, all 17, pose for the camera at the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens.

This summer, I had an experience of a lifetime as part of a group of students from Greenbrier High School that toured Italy and Greece for 15 days.


We first stopped in Verona, Italy, the site of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. We visited "Juliet's house" and saw the balcony. A statue of Juliet is in a courtyard, and it's considered good luck by the Italians to touch her right breast . Naturally, every tourist there did it.

In Venice, the gondola ride is a tourist have-to, but be warned: It'll cost at least 40 euros, which translates to $62.

Florence is Italy's art capital. I saw works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael and Donatello at the Uffizi Museum. While in Tuscany, we also stopped by Pisa to take a look at the leaning tower. I had to get the picture of me holding the tower up from a distance. You could see about 20 other dorky tourists doing the same thing .

Assisi was perhaps the least touristy place we visited, which made it one of my favorites. The town was small, especially in comparison with its landmark, St. Francis of Assisi's Basilica. As a Catholic, I found visiting the tomb of St. Francis very exciting.

The next night, we arrived in Rome and stayed at a convent . The next day , our busiest , we visited Vatican City and saw Pope Benedict give his Wednesday morning blessing; the Coliseum, home of the gladiators; the Pantheon, the burial place of Raphael; Trevi Fountain, where for your wish to come true you must throw a coin in over your left shoulder with your right hand; and the Spanish Steps .

Views of the ocean and the seaside city of Sorrento welcomed us after a long bus ride. Our hotel was on a cliff that hung over the clear blue sea. We could see the rocky ocean floor from our balconies. We climbed down the trail to the ocean and swam for the rest of the day, which served as much welcomed relaxation after the bustle of Rome.

The next day we reluctantly moved from Sorrento to the next city, Pompeii, which was buried in volcanic ash in A.D. 79 .

That night we boarded a ferry to Greece. We played cards and pretended to drop bracelets into the ocean, Titanic-style, but we had to get off the ferry at 4 a.m.

My initial impression was how mountainous Greece is. As we drove farther, we arrived at the rocks of Meteora. They're like Stone Mountain doubled in height and multiplied into a chain. In the 16th century, Greek-Orthodox (the state religion in Greece) monks somehow built monasteries on top. No one really knows how they made the almost vertical climb without modern technology.

Delphi is on a hill with beautiful views of the sea. Our chaperones accompanied us to a discotheque , one our tour company had approved of, and it was a lot of fun. Good group bonding over European techno music in Greece, what could be better?

The next day, we toured the ancient city, where the Temple of Apollo stands. We went to the

ruins of Mycenae, thought to be where the Mask of Agamemnon was discovered.

The next day we visited the ancient theatre in Epidaurus, which is still in use and is known for its astounding acoustics. One of the teachers and I tested them out by singing A Whole New World. We were later joined by some more students in a rendition of I'll Make a Man Out of You, from Mulan. It was one of the funniest parts of the trip.

We arrived in Athens that night, then got up early to see the Parthenon and visit the archaeological museum.

It was a nine-hour flight back home to the United States, a country I grew to appreciate more over the trip. Coming back to very rude airport employees also made me feel slightly ashamed of it, too.

Enough negativity, though , because it was an experience I'll treasure forever. I had fun, but it's good to be home.

Michael Ryan is a rising junior at Greenbrier High School


- 70 percent of Greeks speak English.

- We had air conditioning only twice, and it cost 4 euros extra.

- Be sure you set priorities in what you want to see. Time goes by fast.

- See a market? Buy water in bulk there and put it on a bus if you're with a tour group, or else you're stuck thirsty in a touristy place where they charge 3 euros a bottle for water.

- Too hot in the hotel room? Sleep on the balcony. We did, twice.



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