After such intricate planning, the day everyone has looked forward to for so very long eventually dawned! There was great excitement as 27 girls, accompanied by an array of family members, gathered at OR Tambo this afternoon and I have just spoken to the chaperones who confirmed that all survived the rigorous enquiry at emigration! Everyone is looking forward to flying on the magnificent A380 to Frankfurt, from where they will connect to Venice, where they will be warmly greeted by their dedicated Tour Escort, Siriki. I will update the website as soon as I have heard from the chaperones, but please rest assured that all arrangements are firmly in place and a wonderfully enriching tour awaits your daughters … bon voyage!


I have received a message from the chaperones confirming that all have arrived safely in Venice. Siriki was there to meet them and assist with the transfer to the hotel Alloggi Agli Artisti and should you wish to make contact with your daughters, the number for reception is 00 39 041 716 270. They will explore informally this afternoon, before enjoying a romantic gondola ride along the canals in the early evening - more later from the chaperones…22H30 "We have had a long, long day and all the girls are exhausted! We hit the streets of Venice at a run and dropping off our bags we headed straight out for a visit to the Basilica di San Marco. Beautiful mosaics and the girls were awestruck by the detail and floor plan which they studied in grade 10 art theory. We experienced a beautiful peaceful gondola ride and were most impressed by the skill of the oarsman. It is very, very hot here and Siriki says Paris is 100deg Fahrenheit so we must be even higher in Venice. We had a delicious enormous dinner at the restaurant just round the corner of the hotel - but no guilt feelings, as we definitely had enough exercise for the day! All the girls have opted for a well-deserved early night to recharge batteries for tomorrow!" Please to note that I am departing for France with a group tonight and will only be able to update the website tomorrow. My SA mobile number does not have a roaming facility and I will be using my French sim card until 17 July, which is + 33 6 34 48 50 95. My daughter Michelle may also be contacted if need be on 071 351 1410.


“We went to the Venice Giardini today, which is an area of parkland in which hosts the Biennale Art Festival. Here we saw some really strange/beautiful/just plain amazing art and it was so rewarding. Murano Island was lovely and the girls were very impressed with the skillful way in which the glass artists changed blobs of molten glass into beautiful objects. Miss Bezuidenhout was asked to assist and we think that she did a fine job, even if she was a bit nervous of blowing glass in the 108 degree temperature! Those girls who opted for the concert proved to be the fastest make-over artists one could imagine, as they dressed for the string ensemble in less than 20 minutes! The music was really beautiful and the strings were accompanied by a harpsichord. All are having a wonderful time and learning so much at the same time!”


“We arrived safely in Florence at about 8:30 pm. En route we stopped in Padua which was such a beautiful serene experience after the fully packed streets of Venice. A few girls tagged along with the teachers to hunt down a graffiti artist who is famous for his graffiti artworks that only occur in Padua and we succeeded in finding 3. We got quite lost in the process, but we were assisted by a very kind elderly gentleman who escorted us all the way to our meeting point back at the Scrovengi Chapel! The paintings inside the chapel are frescoes and of great significance to the development of early Christian art.” A reminder that they are staying at the Hotel Donatello and the number is + 39 055 462 7472.


“It is Hannae's birthday today and she was given a surprise party at exactly midnight which lasted for about an hour or so and involved some sort of show, but the chaperones weren’t given details of that part! At 9am we set off for Impruneta and all were so looking forward to the cooking course at La Villa Quercia. Today has to be the hottest day we've had so far, but the walk to the villa was pleasant, surrounded by lovely scenery of olive groves and stunning vineyards. Here we met Veronica who provided us with much needed water, iced coffee and ice tea when we arrived…she became an instant hit! During the morning we made pizza, pasta sauce and chocolate cake and Veronica started with the sauce for the pasta by chopping red onions and celery. Jordan started crying immediately and quite soon everyone joined in - Veronica assured us they would make our eyes beautiful and shiny. Veronica even showed us how to make our own pasta and Kia was the first to volunteer to knead the dough for the pizza - her beautiful long nails that had been especially applied for the holidays were no hindrance at all, much to our surprise! Everyone had a turn to help make their pizza which we popped into the oven. While Clair, who was the designated cheese grater, proceeded to grate an enormous block of parmesan cheese, Krisha whipped up the eggs that were laid by the farm chickens for the chocolate cake….12 eggs were needed! By the end of the session we had made and eaten pasta with sauce, pizza and a super chocolate cake, when we again sang happy birthday to Hannae … 3 different versions! The girls really enjoyed learning how to make new things in the kitchen and parents can all expect an Italian dinner when we are back in SA! They also loved being able to use the swimming pool and dived into the cool water, most with all their clothes on and the damp clothing then made for a better walk back to the bus! What a magnificent day we had and once back in Florence we had some free time, when everyone enjoyed browsing in the shops, admiring especially at the beautiful leather items!”


"Florence has been a busy, hot and exciting and today’s marathon visit to 4 museums was mind-blowing! We met up with our guide at the Uffizi and she was extremely kind with our group – she loved us and even asked for a group photo as our girls had been a model example excellent behavior! In the museum Kgomotso stepped back and knocked a rope guide down that landed on the floor with a load clang. Well everyone's hearts stopped for a few second and poor K G stood rooted to her spot … Her friends, Nombulelo, Lebo T and Boichoko  deserted their ‘friend’ and shot across to the other side of the room, whilst Kgomotso regained her composure and with a look of absolute innocence, slowly removed herself from the crime scene! Of course when we realized that it was just a rope that had come loose from its hook, we all burst out laughing. K G says she knows who her friends are now!!! The climb up to the Duomo roof was an experience that will never be forgotten, with some intense moments of claustrophobia which had me quite worried, as there is no space to turn around on the narrow spiral staircase! Lili decided the best way to get through the moment was by singing and Miss Eaton confirmed that it was ‘quite a distraction’!”


Today they will say a fond farewell to beautiful Florence as they depart by coach for Rome. "Today we travelled from Florence to Assisi, very serene and quite atmosphere. We arrived while most churches were having mass so we had to wait to get into them. We were allowed to peak into one of the services and experienced some lovely singing by their choir (we had to quietly drag the girls away as they seemed quite mesmerized by the service). The church is filled with Giotto frescos and it was lovely to see the girls asking questions about the paintings and the history of the church. We went downstairs to the lower church to view St Francis' crypt – such a lovely quiet atmosphere, no talking allowed. We then travelled towards Rome and had a bathroom stop mid-way. Here the bus moved towards the petrol pump, driving past Sam, Danielle, Julia and Charmaine coming back from the bathroom and the looks on their faces were priceless as they thought we were leaving them behind. Shame! We got to Rome, quickly dropped off bags at hotel and then proceeded via public bus to Trevi fountain which was unfortunately under construction. The girls were somewhat disappointed but the amazing gelato and walking past all the boutique shops lifted the spirits considerably … Demi, Nombi and Phumi (among many others) especially loved the boutiques! Then off to the Spanish steps, which were very crowded! Couldn't even find a seat... The square is ver y beautiful though. Our tour guide then walked us though the main square of Rome (which used to be a race track for horses) and walked past an entertaining mime in a pram that sprayed water at the girls and had them all squealing and scattering in different directions! The Hotel Columbus is very beautiful and is a converted nunnery and is conveniently only a block away from the Vatican! Telephone number is +39 06 686 5435".


"This morning we had a lovely breakfast in the massive and beautiful dining hall. We then took the public bus again to the Colosseum, where we were split into groups of 10 and very informative guides told us a bit more about the colosseum and the Roman forums. All the girls were very much amazed by the engineering prowess of the Romans. We then took a break for a leisurely lunch, some of the girls (Krisha, Emma, Sam, Jordan and Hannae) joined the teachers for lunch at a very quaint Italian restaurant (Dei Bastion) which was lovely. Thereafter we had a guided tour of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica. There were so many people here but the paintings were mind blowing. We had the best dinner we've had so far and were treated to some real Italian flavours. Everyone had sore feet, but loved the day and we are all mentally preparing for the climb up Vesuvius tomorrow!"


“It’s Jordan’s birthday today and on the bus to Pompeii we sang a loud cheery ‘happy birthday! We thoroughly enjoyed our tour to Pompeii and guide, Antonella was so passionate about her work that it spilled over to the group. Everyone was able to refill their water bottles from an ancient water fountain and the girls were amazed that the Romans were so advanced as far as engineering goes, with the water distribution and the manner in which they kept their food cool by storing ice which they collected from the mountains underground. The bus trip up to Vesuvius was hair raising to say the least and luckily our bus driver really knew how to approach the hair pin bends. On some of the bends where we had to pass oncoming traffic we had a mere 5cm gap between the vehicles, with a sheer drop on the other side - it was really scary stuff, but we all live to tell the tale! Almost all the girls climbed to the top of the volcano - very strenuous in the heat, but definitely worth it experience that all will remember this for the rest of their lives. When we got to the top we had melted and I am sure we all lost 5kg each.  Lungile looked just stunning and posed for a mini photo shoot at the crater, whilst Kgomotso insisted on sitting on the railing to pose for photos and all the teachers were having heart attacks just imagining her flipping over the railing into the crater of the volcano! Needless to say she was quickly whipped off the railing to safety. The walk down was quick and very dusty. We cooled off in the air conditioned bus and were taken straight to the restaurant for dinner, which was our last Italian meal - Bruschetta pizza salad and a lovely coffee flavoured ice cream between layers of phyllo pastry and Phumi says that was the best day of the entire tour! What a great & unique way for Jordan to celebrate her 17th birthday - sightseeing in a Roman city that was brought to an abrupt end in 79 BC and then then climbing to the crater of an active volcano – wow!”


We’re off to Parris today and all reported at the lobby at 06:45 to board the bus to the airport. Helen was amazing as she entertained everyone on the piano and the girls then joined in with some singing – what a lovely jovial atmosphere we created! More later from Paris….”


What a wonderful, but jam-packed day! We started off with a trip to the Orangerie, where the guided tour was most informative and definitely well worth it. Lilly suddenly saw the light when she was shown the progression from Cezanne - Matisse - Picasso – Cubism! All the girls could relate to the enormous Monet water lily paintings as they do this at Grade 8 level. The paintings seem to envelop you and we were afforded the chance to sit on the oval seat in the centre of the room and just absorb the experience. Next on the list was the Champs Elysees. Everyone went shopping and Kgomotso won the prize for the most shopping bags! After a very lengthy shopping spree we met for dinner at a quaint restaurant on the Avenue and we had really lovely food, as always. Then we went for a night tour on an open double Dekker bus - wow Paris at night is just so beautiful! 24:00 was considered an early night … love from your very happy but very weary chaperones!”


“Today we had another packed day! We started with the Notre Dame this morning to view the beautiful stained glass windows and amazing Gothic architecture and here we heard the organ practising a piece by Bach for the 14th (Bastille day). We walked to the lovers bridge where Demi and Chiara put locks on the bridge and they all enjoyed taking photos, as they knew it is coming down in October. We then headed to the Georges Pompidou Centre on the metro, where we saw lots of art that related to the grade 10 and 11 visual art syllabus. Lili loved seeing a Picasso that they had in their June exam and Callista & Isabella also commented that it was ‘cool to see the real artwork’ that they've learnt about. Krisha really enjoyed the exhibition in modern art on the 4th floor and the Gr11 art girls actually ended up explaining the importance of the architectural movement it was made in to Siriki…who was most impressed! We had a nice long lunch break in the Latin Quarter where they could have some real French lunch and used the opportunity to do their last minute shopping at all the great sales. The girls sat with their feet in the fountain to cool off a bit. Then off to the Louvre, where we had an amazing tour guide who whizzed us through the highlight's (Mona Lisa, David, winged victory etc). Then we took a metro to a really lovely French restaurant, where we enjoyed our last meal in the city of lights!”


By all accounts this has been such an AMAZING tour for the girls, with so many valuable and memorable experiences having been packed into the 14 days! All flights are confirmed and they will fly from Paris to Frankfurt, where they will meet up with my French group also returning to SA - so on flight LH572, there will be 58 girls from PHSG and 9 boys from PBHS! What a homecoming it should be at 08h40 tomorrow with all the parents excitedly awaiting their children! The ultimate success of any tour depends largely on the chaperones and Mrs Jacqui Greenberg, Ms Samantha Eaton & Ms Elaine Bezuidenhout deserve the highest praise. They managed to find the perfect balance between firm discipline along with an enormous sense of fun ~ their knowledge, dedication, energy and enthusiasm have been inspirational and your children have certainly been very privileged to have travelled with them! The girls’ behaviour has been impeccable and they have been fine ambassadors for their school and for South Africa – bravo! The superb memories and firm bonds of friendships which have been made will last a lifetime. The girls are all obviously looking forward to seeing family and friends back home and sharing all their memories and as parents, you can rest firm in the knowledge that you have afforded your children the most wonderful opportunity. They are bound to be exhausted and the many wonderful anecdotes may not immediately be forthcoming, but they are sure to reveal themselves in the days, months and even years to come! It has once again been my privilege & pleasure to be associated with the Art Tour for Pretoria High School for Girls and it remains for me to say arrivederci & au revoir!