When John Ponikvar was 8, he looked at a book about the ancient Italian city of Pompeii.
The book had photos of plaster casts of victims as they were found under the ashes from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79.
“That’s been etched in my memory since I was probably 8 years old, then to be able to see it at 54 years old … it was really cool,” Ponikvar said.
Ponikvar, owner of NAPA Auto Parts in Craig and an alumnus of Colorado Northwestern Community College, was able to see the ruins last month as part of an annual international spring break trip organized by CNCC.
“We just decided spring break is a good time to go do a little international travel and expose some of our students to different cultures and give them a way to comfortably go with a group, leave the country, see the sights, meet new people, see new things,” said Kathy Simpson, a CNCC instructor who, along with Mary Karen Solomon, organizes the annual trips.
Simpson said this was the 10th trip the college has organized for both students and community members.
“We felt the desire to be able to offer students an opportunity that is sometimes harder to come by when you’re in a rural area,” Simpson said. “An opportunity to travel and experience culture, and we try keep to keep it as inexpensive as possible.”
This year’s trip spanned eight nights in Rome and gave 27 students, mostly from the school’s community education program, a chance to visit landmarks including Vatican City and the Trevi Fountain.
The group stayed every night in Rome, but during the day took trips to Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Tuscany. Those on the trip were also given time to take side trips, such as the one to modern day Pompei.
“You have the big stuff that everyone wants to say, ‘Yes, I did that, yes I did that,’ but this is the kind of tour that we really do try to facilitate people getting to see something that maybe we don’t actually have slotted in for the group to see,” Simpson said.
The itinerary is put together by the community education program, which then uses a tour company to help organize charter busses and other details involved in group travel, Simpson said.
Solomon said this year’s trip was slightly rainier than previous spring break trips, which was both good and bad.
“This one time we were downtown looking at the Pantheon and some of the churches and we went into a little pizza parlor and just stayed for an hour drying out and getting warm again,” she said. “It was very pleasant, so it had its’ advantages, too.”
Solomon said in the case of Siena and San Gimingnano, the rain added atmosphere to the locations.
Unlike previous trips, those traveling weren’t able to earn credit while overseas because of a low demand for the credit.
Solomon said some members of the group had trouble with pickpockets, including one traveler who had her passport and credit card stolen.
But, she said things worked out OK.
Simpson said as an instructor, she enjoys seeing the reaction of people who are visiting a place for the first time.
“Every time we take someone and they see a piece of artwork for the first time … the look on their faces, it’s always exciting to see that (expression of), ‘Oh my gosh, it really is that beautiful,’” she said.
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