After a cold, dark 5am bus journey to work on the 23rd October, a long awaited ‘working’ holiday to the beautiful, sunny and fertile plains of Tuscany and the mountains beyond seemed like a dream come true. And it was.
There were several intentions for the work trip to Italy; to familiarise myself and my colleagues with Italian culture, to visit previous schools, students and teachers who have visited the college in the past, to gain a deeper insight into the ethos behind St Joseph’s Foundation and how it works as a charity and business, and of course most importantly, if not entirely purposefully – to eat and drink our way around the bustling cafes and large variety of restaurants Italy has to offer.
So, it all started with an early morning flight from London Stanstead to Pisa, this was the first stop on our tour. The first morning Leo and I hired a car from the airport which he would tirelessly go onto drive many hundreds of kilometres over the next week. From here we drove into the beautiful hilly countryside surrounding Florence to our base camp for the week – Villa Morghen (my new favourite place). On top of the beautiful views and idyllic surroundings they were very friendly and accommodating. That Afternoon we picked up David from the airport and went out for our first authentic Italian dining experience in the centre of Florence. We met some teachers who had visited London a couple of weeks before and had a very pleasant time drinking wine and eating lots of delicious food including… (wait for it) fried cow brains! WHEN IN ROME!(or Florence).The perfect fuel for the busy week we had planned ahead of us.
I wish I could wake every day to the sound of birds, sunshine on my face and a view of the Duomo di Firenze from the bedroom, a strange collection of sensations to someone living in the hustle and bustle of London, indeed that is what awaits you at Villa Morghen. Our first full working day of the trip, today was the day we would go to the head office of the charity and meet the boss of St Joseph’s Foundation. After arriving at the head office and meeting the people who work there we sat in a meeting with him and other senior figures in the charity. This meeting proved to be very useful in helping us to understand the aims and aspirations St Josephs strives for. We learnt that as a non-profit organization the students and their learning experience is the priority, with this in mind we had a small brainstorming session thinking about how we could improve the college in London and the experience the students have there. This proved to be a success and we formulated some ideas together as to how to do this. In the evening we sat in a video conference with all of the schools and teachers working for St Guiseppes (St Josephs). Leo helped David and I with translation and discussed the main points with is after the event. This included the appreciation from the senior members of staff for the hard work that takes place across all the schools and the motivations and drive behind the main goals of the business. After this Leo drove the first of many long legs across the north of Italy to Venice.
Venice is a particularly beautiful part of Italy, rich in history and hosting 417 bridges across the many canals that flow through it, it is a place I would like to revisit and spend longer exploring. We visited the first of our new schools, Padova. We met the teachers and students who will be staying with us in the coming February and it was wonderful to see the excitement on the faces of the kids (and teachers!) after talking with them and telling them everything there trip to London will have to offer. Fulfilling the ‘holiday’ part of the working holiday, we proceeded to go for dinner and drinks in the magnificent heart of Venice and we were showed around by an incredibly knowledgeable and capable tour guide, Riccardo, a friend of Leo’s. The next day began with another long journey back to Florence and the base camp/home of Villa Morghen. We were then given a free 2 and half days to relax, explore the city, eat, drink and repeat! We met up with Biagio, a well known teacher and regular visitor to the college in London which was very enjoyable.
The next day we spent the last of our free days relaxing in the sun. Mel, another colleague of ours arrived that evening and due to a heavy blanket of flog around Pisa her flight was diverted last minute to Bologna which added 2 hours onto our journey making it an arduous 5 hours to Milan. Leo heroically made the drive through the night and got us safely to our Hotel at 3.40am. We hastily grabbed some sleep before our first day in Milan.
Milan was everything I expected it to be and more! We started the day meeting students and teachers from a previous school visit and it was genuinely awesome to see them again. We taught them some idioms and had some fun in the classroom before getting some advice of where to explore in the city. The beautiful central Duomo and galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle were absolutely breath taking. The fashion capital of the world really lived up to it’s name with hundreds of designer shops, cosmopolitan cafes and talented street performers; there was something for everyone. (Shopping for Mel 😉).
The next day a final drive back to Florence brings our trip to a close. We had the chance to buy souvenirs including a perculator(for coffee), Italian biscuits and chocolates, pocket coffee(my new favourite thing) and various Italian clothes and homeware. It was very important for us to learn about the ethos of St Josephs, experience Italian culture and meet various schools whilst we were in Italy but as I said at the start of this piece the most memorable parts(at least for me) were the food and drink; TINY espresso coffees, hand cut and authentic Italian meats and cheeses, some of the most beautiful wines I’ve ever tasted, a wonderful variety of biscuits and sweet and of course I will never forget the cows brains.
Overall a very enjoyable trip and I’m sure I speak on behalf of my colleagues as well when I say a BIG THANK YOU to Leo for arranging the trip, driving us round and showing the best Italy has to offer but also to all the staff at St Josephs and associated schools we met for making us feel so welcome.
Written by Marcus Hatcher