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From a Class Trip to Italy, a He-Saw, She-Saw Story

A mother and son return with tales of travel that are worlds apart

May 28, 2000|K.C. SUMMERS and NICK SUMMERS

Editor's note: Last spring, 29 students and 18 chaperons from Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va., flew to Italy for a 10-day tour of Venice, Florence and Rome. Nick Summers, a sophomore, and his mother, K.C. Summers, the travel editor of the Washington Post, both pictured on Page L1, took notes and came back with very different stories. Excerpts follow:

K.C.: So I signed up to go on Nick's class trip. Of course, I cleared it with him. Nick said it was fine as long as I didn't expect him to, like, sit next to me on the plane or anything. Or on the tour bus. Or in restaurants. Or walk next to him in museums. Or socialize during the evenings.

NICK: Actually, I had no problem with Mom coming along. She would have plenty of other parents to play with. I didn't expect to see much of her anyway because my friends and I had plans for our free time. This wasn't just a study trip; it was our spring break too.

K.C.: The kids were loaded with the essentials: Discmans, Game Boys and, in one boy's case, 22 extra AA batteries. The kids looked adorable, I thought, as I reflected on my one and only class trip, a cruise down the Potomac. These guys, by contrast, were jetting to Italy. I hoped they appreciated how lucky they were.

Oh, God. I was doing it already.

NICK: As soon as we landed in Italy, I knew we hadn't left everything behind: Our humongous tour bus waited at the Milan airport. All buses are the same, from the narrow aisles to the strict social hierarchy, and we would become painfully well acquainted with this one by the end of our trip. Our time on the bus was a blur, punctuated with CDs, sleep and lunacy. As we drove from Milan to Venice, two friends orchestrated an elaborate war between rival brands of Italian Gummi Bears and mournfully ate the casualties.

Our first cultural revelation: All Gummi Bears taste the same.

K.C.: Within one day, the bus hierarchy was firmly in place. Sitting up front was our Italian tour guide, the lovely Rafaella with the big brown eyes, who had met us at the Milan airport. She was effortlessly chic in that maddening way European women seem born with. (Is it the scarves? The hair? The complete absence of running shoes in their wardrobes?)

My fellow parent chaperons and I made up the deadly middle section, where no self-respecting adolescent would be caught. They were all in the back, ignoring us. I felt somewhat left out, not one of the "in crowd" up front and not part of the cool section in back. Here I am, 48 years old and worrying about where to sit on the bus.

NICK: The trip was called "The Art of Italy." We'd been studying this stuff, and now we were going to see the real thing. Our guide was my European history teacher, Albert Van Thournout, or VT, as he is called. VT is like a combination of Don Rickles and Hannibal Lecter, with a bit of the absent-minded professor thrown in.

He knows everything about everything, so I figured he'd be a good guide.

Hey, we were supposed to be in Venice, so why were we staying in a town called Lido di Jesolo? I was disappointed. We were obviously nowhere near the city center. I had expected that our lodgings would be right in the middle of Venice, Florence and Rome.

Then it struck me: I was whining about being a few miles from Venice on a trip to Italy that my parents were paying for. Note to self: Shut up.

My three roommates and I checked out our hotel room. It was barely bigger than the two beds and cot that had been pushed against each other and had transformed the room into a giant mattress. The bathroom was also small. Two or three feet separated the sink and toilet. I liked the utilitarianism: You could shower, shave and urinate at the same time.

K.C.: I now discovered there were two trips going on--the official daytime tour, and an after-hours one that I could never penetrate. Every morning when we met for breakfast, I'd hear cryptic references to the night before.

This became immediately apparent at our first stop, Lido di Jesolo, a funky little town on the Adriatic coast 20 miles north of Venice. I was exhausted and jet-lagged, so after dinner I headed to my room.

While I was nodding off, the kids celebrated their arrival in Italy with an impromptu walking tour of the town by moonlight. The next night, after a full day of sightseeing and museum-going in Venice, they were at it again: one group to the local disco and another to the seashore, where they stripped to their boxers and plunged into the Adriatic. At least this is what I'm told. I was asleep.

NICK: Sleep is overrated. Our first night in Jesolo, we took a walk and spent 20 minutes behind a seaside hotel, waiting for an outdoor digital clock to make the daylight savings jump from 11:59 p.m. to 1 a.m. The crossover never came, but nobody cared. It set the tone for the entire trip: No matter how stupid something was, it was still special because we were in Italy. You can sleep anywhere any time.

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