Italy Softball Tour – June 8-18, 2012 – Blog by Players and Coaches
After departing New York on on Friday, we arrived in Rome, Italy on time at 10:30am on Saturday. A tremendous accomplishment, considering we are a party of 46 people! We have 30 college softball players (2 teams) along with 4 coaches and 12 family members. I was happy to see a familiar face when we arrived. Our Italian tour guide, Giancarlo Manti met us with a big smile and a hug. In 2010, I had the privilege of traveling with AIST in Italy and Giancarlo was our tour guide. Giancarlo is a meticulous professional with a great deal of knowledge and a winning personality.
We were driven by private motor coach and dropped off a block from the Vatican City. “Leticia” gave us a guided walking tour of the Vatican museums. The collection of tapestries, paintings, sculptures was remarkable. (I have a renewed commitment to fulfill a long-time goal of making a mosaic tile piece.) The woven tapestries were from the 1500’s, created nearly 200 years before Columbus discovered America.
Our guided tour included a tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peters Cathedral. The ceiling of Sistine Chapel was famously painted by Michelangelo. The back stories behind all of the paintings added significance to the many awe inspiring works of art. St. Peters cathedral can only be described by one word. Awesome! The ceiling had to have been 10-15 stories high. The main alter was a structure that appeared to be the size of a 4 story building, inside the cathedral! Everything was covering with incredibly ornate massive sculptures and mosaic tile art. When mankind set out to build this “house of God”, well, we certainly did a pretty remarkable job!
Our tour concluded with a walking tour of the Spanish Steps and some free time to explore the surrounding area and the many shops and restaurants in the neighborhood. Everyone was quiet on the ride to the hotel. We were very tired from the long trip. But, the day was fulfilling and we accomplished a lot in a short time. After a quick shower, we met on the terrace of our 4 star hotel for dinner. Our first day in Italy is complete…can’t wait ‘til tomorrow…Buona notte!
Ancient Rome ………… Day 4:
Our second full day in Italy, we enjoyed a guided tour of the ancient Roman ruins. We drove past the several ruins including an area that at one time was a stadium capable of holding over 300,000 people! We drove across the river on a “newer” bridge that was built adjacent to the ruins of an ancient bridge. The bus dropped us off at the Coliseum in Rome. An incredibly impressive structure considering it was built by hand. The Coliseum was capable of holding over 100,000 spectators.
Our walking tour took us through the ruins of ancient Rome where archaeologists have dug up ancient pillars, walls and entire buildings. We walked past all of the major monuments and squares in Rome and went inside the Pantheon a large dome shaped building, built by hand and yet perfectly symmetrical. Two roman emperors and the famous artist Rafael are buried inside. The only window in the Pantheon is a hole in the roof to allow sunshine, air and even rain in.
The guided tour ended at Navona Square. A large area the length of a football field with beautiful fountains in the middle and surrounded by old buildings. It is Sunday, so all of the artists have filled the square to display and sell their paintings and works of art. We are given 3 hours to break for lunch and explore the neighborhood. I choose the later and spend most of my time exploring the area and stumbling across an ancient castle…cool! And, I discovered another important landmark in Rome…a delicious gelato shop! My day is complete!
Day 5 ….. A day at the beach!
Monday is travel day, but we get up early so we can stop at Rimini Beach on the East Coast of Italy along the Adriatic Sea. It is a quaint neighborhood on a soft sandy beach that stretches for miles. The beach is lined with lounge chairs and large umbrellas that are rented to us for 3.5 euros for the day (on weekends they often charge up to 15 euros)! We spend the entire day at the beach, sunbathing, swimming in the sea, playing volleyball and yes of course….shopping!
It was a great day…soooo relaxing! A great change of pace considering we have been going non-stop since we arrived. AIST really knows how to host a group travel trip. I feel like we have accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time. We arrive at our hotel in San Marino rested relaxed and ready for more. Our first games are tomorrow. The athletes are looking forward to some competition!
Day 6 …. San Marino and our first games:
Our day starts with breakfast at the Best Western hotel in San Marino. This is perhaps the nicest Best Western hotel that I have ever seen. It is very clean with a pool, health spa, and a full dining room. Everything is spotless. After a full breakfast buffet we head up to the top of San Marino. When we arrive, it is cold and windy with a light rain passing through. We are met by a professional tour guide. “Laura” guides the group into a small museum and then into a beautiful church. She has some great stories to tell the group as the storm passes quickly by.
We exit the church and walk to up the street where it feels like you are on top of the world. A spectacular view from the cliffs leaves us in awe. It is just as beautiful as I remember. The guided tour ends at the top of the trail where there is a photo opportunity. Imagine in the background of your photo: a medieval castle on the edge of a sheer cliff with the beautiful Rimini Beach off in the distance. The storm has passed by and it turns sunny and warm.
Gary Haarmann (AIST staff) and I head down the cliff and stop to say hello to a Cuban fellow who owns a tiny bar in San Marino. He immigrated to Italy after he met an Italian girl in Cuba. They now have a 4 year old daughter and a thriving business on the hillside. He has a friendly, and fun loving personality, and I really enjoyed speaking with him in Spanish. He seemed to be happy to speak in his native language as well. We stay and chat with him for over an hour, and end up playing a friendly round of Texas Hold-em.
Gary and I are a few minutes late returning to the bus, and Giancarlo is pointing to his watch. We feel like a couple of kids being scolded by their school teacher. After a quick lunch at the hotel, we head to Rimini for our first competitions of the trip. The Italian team has 4 strong D1 players from the United States. Our players are a bit rusty and nervous. The Italian team wins both games 6-3 and 2-0. We have a light dinner at a restaurant next to the field. The outdoor “snack bar” has a very fun atmosphere with good food.