My Spring Break on the Italian Riviera (With a Busload of Teens)

Ligurian SeaRecently many of my Facebook friends have been posting from far away, warm locations. I see them wearing swimsuits and sunglasses while drinking fancy beverages. They post amazing sunsets at the beaches and palm trees waving in tropic winds. I hit ‘like’ because I like the pictures and I like that my friends have the chance to travel.

I have no plans to go anywhere warm, anytime soon, but don’t feel bad for me. I still pinch myself when I think back to the warm spring my family and I spent under the sunshine on the Italian Riviera.

The blue of the Ligurian Sea, the green hillside vineyards and the gardens in full bloom are still vivid in my mind all these years after.


How we, a family of four living paycheck to paycheck, ended up in Italy, is a good story. In the early 90’s, my husband and I were working at regular jobs in our home town. There was no extra money for trips. We didn’t make much money.  I’m quite sure we qualified for food stamps. Even so, we were very happy surrounded by wonderful family and friends and loved being parents to our 8 year old daughter and 11 year old son. One of my husband’s jobs was in youth ministry. 

Around this time, I had been yearning to see other parts of the world. I had traveled to many states when growing up, but now I found myself day dreaming about traveling. I especially wanted to go to England. I started to pray about it. Perhaps a selfish prayer but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

old church, Pisa

Then one day, my husband was offered a position in Germany at a US Army Post, working with teens of military families. With the support of family and friends, we were off to live in Germany for 3 years where we’d lead the chapel youth program at an Army Post. 

The teens of military families had their own American school on the Army Post. During spring break, we took these kids camping in Italy. Traveling distance from Germany to Italy is like driving across a few US states. This wasn’t a high class affair. No need to pack my LBD and heels.

where were you in '92


We didn’t fly first class, but rode endless miles in a bumpy bus with energy filled teens. We didn’t stay in fancy hotels, but slept in tents that leaked when it rained. We didn’t eat at outdoor cafes, but brought our own simple groceries. During the day we’d chaperone these kids at the beach or go hiking along the Ligurian coastline. 

We strolled down narrow streets that looked as if Sophia Loren herself might lean out a window at any moment.

Scan 18

There were no guided tours. We just wandered around and stumbled into old churches and historical places. We hiked the Cinque Terre area, five small towns along the coastline. We bought lemon ice and bakery cookies in the tiny stores. A visit to the city of Florence was more than I could have hoped for. For a history and art lover like myself I was in constant amazement. 


With a large group of teens in our care, it was not a relaxing or romantic vacation. This was fine by me. After all, I was in Italy, and besides, I loved these high school kids. 


Scan 12Even though everything was done ‘on the cheap’, countless rich memories follow me all these years later. Not bad for someone who in those years thought going up to Duluth was big. 


By the way, I did get to England. I’ll share that another time.





And yes, I’ve said many prayers of thanks for this gift!