While spring break means fun in the sun for many teenagers, three dozen Arthur L. Johnson High School students, along with six chaperones, embarked on a more ambitious trek last month. The group, led by history teacher Fredy Reyes, set out on April 7 for a weeklong adventure that led them from Switzerland to Italy.

The group’s first stop was Zurich, where they enjoyed an afternoon of sightseeing before driving to the ski resort town of Engleberg in the foothills of the Alps. In Engleberg, the jet-lagged  travelers savored a veal dinner before settling in for the night.

The next morning, the group ventured via lift to one of the highest peaks in the Alps at 10,000 feet above sea level.

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“We were most impressed with the glacier cave and Ice Walk Bridge,” said Mr. Fosco, one of the chaperones. Temperatures on the mountaintop were around 40°, considerably cooler than in the town below, where it was 60°."

Following that adventure, the travelers headed to the beautiful city of Lucerne, where they were awed by the architecture.

“There is nothing quite like walking on a bridge originally constructed in the 15th century,” marveled Reyes, the organizer of the trip.

The third day of the expedition was devoted to travel, with the group led through the south of Switzerland and into Italy in a brand-new coach driven by their guide, Jean Luca.

“It was the best travel day I’ve experienced in many years,” noted Reyes.

The first stop was Lugano, a vacation mecca for the rich and famous. There, the students and chaperones had three leisurely hours to explore the town’s blooming tulips, lush gardens and enchanting lakes.

Next, their driver escorted them to Lake Garda, one of the famous Italian lakes. After a delicious dinner of risotto and turkey, they checked into the Villa Fenorali Palace Hotel in Rezzato, where they enjoyed five-star accommodations.

Day four of the excursion brought the group to Venice, where they took a whirlwind tour of the city. That afternoon, the tourists again had some free time. Most opted to go shopping or take a gondola ride; some visited sites such as the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, a museum filled with medieval weaponry.

Mrs. Jacobi, one of the chaperones, noted, “When we gathered together at 4:30, bright smiles were on everyone’s faces.”

Back at the luxurious Villa Fenorali Palace that evening, the students and their chaperones enjoyed a custom pizza dinner and celebrated student Jacqui Porcelli’s 17th birthday, singing an Italian rendition of “Happy Birthday” to her.

The next morning, it was time to depart Rezzato for Florence, with a two-hour stop in Verona on the way. The sightseers took a leisurely walk through Verona, visiting the arena, an ancient structure built during the first century; and “Juliet’s House,” the fictional home of the female protagonist from Shakespeare’s famous play. Making their way down the spine of Italy to Florence, the students and chaperones took an after-dinner walk into the heart of the city. 

Thursday began with a tour of the Academia Gallery Museum in Florence, famous for its sculptures, including Michelangelo’s “David.” The group visited a number of piazzas; the Ponte Vecchio arch bridge over the Arno River; the gothic cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Baptistery, the oldest religious monument in Florence. The teens enjoyed trying on some of the leather finery made at world-famous Misuri Leather. In the evening, they cooked their own dinner and many went dancing at a teen club near the hotel.

Capping off the journey, the travelers spent two hectic days in Rome, where highlights included Michelangelo’s frescoed ceilings at the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s fresco masterpiece, “School of Athens,” in the Vatican Museum. They also visited St. Peter’s Square.

On the final day, the students ventured to the Port of Rome, where they enjoyed the unique experience of attending a school for gladiators. Lessons on how to use a sword, lance and bow and arrow were followed by an encounter with a gladiator champion. After “school,” the group returned to the heart of Rome, where they wrapped up their adventure with some last-minute sightseeing at the Forum, the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

On the heels of this spring’s successful trip, ALJ’s History Club is already planning two more expeditions: a ten-day high adventure trek to Costa Rica, and a trip to Madrid and Sevilla, Spain. Both will take place during the 2017-18 school year.

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