On a trip that featured Vatican City, the Alps, Neushwanstein Castle, and many other sites rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, Shepard High School teacher Jeff Vazzana’s favorite memory centered on lederhosen.
“My favorite part of the whole trip would have to be in Austria. We walked through a small town that was not touristy at all, and we were able to peek into a small wedding that the whole town was at,” Vazzana said. “Most of the guests were in full lederhosen.”
The Shepard group, large enough to fill their own tour bus, also visited Rome, Florence, Verona, Munich, and Prague. Vazzana has been organizing tour groups the last few years — in the spring of 2012, he took a group to London on a Shakespeare-themed trip.
“Students learn so much by being in unfamiliar places. They begin to understand the culture of another country, and in doing so, they understand their own culture better,” Vazzana. “Some students walk away really appreciating what they have, and others think that maybe one day they could be in an overseas job.”
Shepard junior Nick Martinez would agree.
“I gained a lot on this trip, other than fun and excitement. This trip taught me much more historical content than I could have ever learned reading a textbook in class,” Martinez said. “History isn’t my favorite subject; however, because I was standing on such historical grounds, I gained interest and every fact was given the chance to sink in.”
Martinez found particular connection to the sites in Italy and Germany: His great grandfather was born in Italy, his great grandmother in Munich, and they met one another at the Frankfurt airport where the Shepard group arrived and departed.
“My family was so connected to every place I visited, and it was not only because my cousins were on the trip with me. Having these family connections made the trip much more special and unforgettable,” he said.
Vazzana, Martinez, and the Shepard group enjoyed every stop.
“Another great moment was walking into Saint Peter’s Basilica with the kids. One of the students came up to me, breathless, and said, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever seen or done in my entire life.’ That will really stick with me,” Vazzana said.
Martinez also enjoyed Vatican City.
“Walking into the Sistine Chapel and seeing what Michelangelo painted was incredible. Unfortunately, we were not able to take pictures. In fact, there are guards that patrol the chapel and say ‘no talking please. Silencio’ or ’no photos please’ every 20 seconds. That was quite comical,” Martinez said.
Each stop seemed a new departure from suburban America. Rome offered the Coliseum and catacombs so narrow and dark that Martinez felt “like I was in an Indiana Jones film.”
Germany provided Neusch-wanstein Castle, which Walt Disney emulated for Cinderella. In the Czech Republic, the Shepard students discovered historic Prague and an unforgettable trip to Dachau. And the famed Tyrol region of Austria stole their breath.
“That was probably the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen,” Martinez said. “We were right in the middle of the Alps at sunset. Our tour guide took us for a walk through the hills of a town. We took many pictures of the beautiful mountains.”
While he enjoyed the sights, Martinez found the experience instructive.
“Each country had things different than what we are accustomed to in America. Therefore, we were pushed out of our comfort zones to try new things, and I enjoyed every piece of it,” he said.