Jennie Lillis' Diary of Iowa's Summer Italy Trip

Sept. 12, 2003

A Special Thanks to senior Jennie Lillis for sharing her diary of the European trip to Italy that her and her teammates, coaches, family and supporters took in mid-August.

Day 1 – August 11
We are off!!! It has been a long wait, but we are finally on our way to Italy. We have a few stops along the way. On our first flight to Minnesota, I had the privilege to sit next to Coach Fitzgerald. It was a great start – we talked for the entire hour – we are both so excited to get there.

We are now en route to Amsterdam. This is the long eight-hour flight. I am sitting by Tiffany Reedy and Becca McCann – we are kind of secluded from the rest of the team, but we will make our own fun. I am also sitting next to a woman named Renate from Germany. We have been talking for most of the trip. She is a very interesting woman – she is an English teacher. We took a picture with Tiffany’s digital camera. Renate and I exchanged email addresses – so I can send her the picture!

We are now beginning cross-word puzzles – see it is easy to make our own fun! Hopefully after that we will eat and maybe sleep a couple of hours!

Day 2 – August 12
Well it is 6:30 a.m. Amsterdam time (which is 11:30 pm Iowa time) and we are at the start of Day 2. We have a little bit of a layover – about three hours. The coolest thing we have seen so far is a giant kit kat bar – it may be because we are a little tired. None of us really fell asleep on the plane. We are just sitting in the cafeteria right now just chatting. When we got off the plane we ran into some people that live in northern Iowa – is it a small world or what?

Jamie and I got a little too excited that we figured out the bottled water machine – again we may just be a little tired. This is also the first opportunity that we have had to use our euros.

We have a two-hour flight left – I hope I sleep this time. We have been told not to take a nap after we get there, so we can try to get adjust to the seven-hour time difference.

We have reached Rome!!! After we found our luggage and our tour guides, we were ready to head out and eat! Our first stop was a little deli type restaurant. It was our first authentic Italian lunch. They had sandwiches for us – only not what we would consider sandwiches. Needless to say – after that lunch we were all a little more cultured. Although, I was very impressed that we all tried the food. Sitting at my table was Lindsay Richards, Whitney Snyder, and Jenna Armstrong. We all tried a little something different – Lindsay had a shrimp, corn, and mayo sandwich on white bread without crust. Jenna had the same bread with salmon and mayo or butter (she couldn’t figure it out). Whit had a tomato and some sort of cheese or tofu or something sandwich on a bagel roll – at first we thought it was an egg and tomato sandwich :). I had a ham and cheese sandwich – only the ham was not really what we think of a ham. Lunch was a little different, but we survived! However, the dessert turned everything around. We had some of the world famous Italian ice cream!


Lillis, McCann and Faulkner in front of the Colosseum.



After lunch we all loaded on the bus and headed toward the Roman Colosseum for a tour. It is a little warm here, but it was really awesome! There is so much history! Our tour guide did an outstanding job helping us visualize the crowd, the actual Coliseum and the gladiators. He made us feel like Russell Crowe in The Gladiator :). We saw the door the gladiators entered. The actual platform is no longer existent, but we saw the tunnels, dressing rooms, and where the animals were kept. It was all under the actual platform. We also found out that the women and children were shunned to the top – it was a little funny because I think our tour guide felt a little funny telling all of us women that (I don’t know if it was due to the fact that we were taller than he was).

After the tour inside the Colosseum we were on our way to the bus. The ground is cobblestone, which is a little hard to walk on – therefore every once in a while you have to look down while you are walking – anyway, to my surprise I looked down at the perfect moment and found a U.S. $20 bill. It was an omen – our trip was going to be great.

We also met some “gladiators”. There were some men all dressed up in gladiator garments. We took a team picture with them and Crystal was chosen to be “Queen”. She wore a crown and a white and gold garment. It was so funny!

About 5 p.m. we made it to the hotel and met up with our parents and the rest of the supporters. Our hotel was literally Austin Powers meets the Jetsons. I finally made it to the shower – we all wanted to nap, but we knew we couldn’t.

I went with my family to the Plaza Navona. We had a great meal. It was fun to be together with all of them. After we ate, we wnet around to the little tourist vendors – but the best was the ice cream that we stopped to get. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Panthenon. We decided to take the metro bus home. That in itself is an experience. I have decided Europeans have a distinct scent and a different idea of personal space :).

I am finally able to go to sleep and I will take full advantage of that!

Day 3 – August 13
Today we went to the Vatican. This by far was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have heard so many stories, and have seen a lot of pictures, but neither do justice. It was an experience that I will never forget.

The art was so amazing at that time. There were hallways and hallways full of paintings, sculptures, woven blankets, etc. Every piece of the wall and every inch of the ceilings were covered.

The first room was full of sculptures of gods, goddesses, and emperors. There was also a hallway they called the hallway of illusion. The way it was painted made things appear that were not really there. For example, there looked like there were actual plaster frames, but it was just painted on the wall. There were also wall rugs – hand made – each one took 10 years to make. The stitching was absolutely amazing. There were so many beautiful paintings and sculptures all over the hallways.

Next we walked into the Sistine Chapel. It was breathtaking. The paintings have all been restored. Each painting had so much detail, and all told stories from the Bible. It took Michelangelo four years to finish -the work put into the chapel to me was unmatched.

After that we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, which is the largest cathedral in the world. This is where the Pope says mass. In here the size of everything was gigantic. There were four central pillars – on the top of each was a portrait of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark was shown writing – the pen he was writing with was in actuality seven-feet long – I could not believe it. The alter in which only the Pope can say mass was structured by four nine ton pillars – each of the four pillars are said to contain pieces of the cross in which Jesus was crucified.

The other neat aspect of St. Peter’s Basilica is that Michelangelo’s first work (when he was 23) the Pieta (Mary holding Jesus) was there and one of his last works was the dome. The dome is held up above the alter. I know it is a little confusing, but it is too amazing not to try to explain.

After the Vatican tour we went to the Spanish Steps. These were cool because many famous fashion shows are held here. After we walked down the steps we went to the Fountain of Trevi. This is the fountain that is in all of the movies. My family and I threw our coins in the fountain in hope to return someday!

That night we all went out for an authentic Italian meal. We tried many different appetizers, meals, breads, and desserts. It was fun to be with everyone – we even took an entire group photo!

Day 4 – August 14
Today we headed off to Florence! The ride took about four hours but we had a pit stop. It was really the first time we all tried Italian candy and snacks. We sure took advantage of that!

Our new hotel is a little older, but more traditional (or I guess what I think traditional would be). The rooms are very quaint. However, we had our pre-game meal on the roof and the view was amazing – it overlooked the city of Florence. Not to mention the meal was wonderful. We had steak and different types of pastas. There is always delicious fresh fruit and rich chocolate desserts.

Then we were on our way to our first game. The game was very interesting. We played the Italian National Team – they were a little older and a little more experienced. It took us a while to adjust to everything, but once we got into the flow we looked better. The outcome didn’t pan out the way we wanted, but we play the same team tomorrow! So far the trip has been amazing!

Day 5 – August 15
We got up early today to go see Michelangelo’s “David”. It was huge – and perfect. The statue was not at all what I expected – to be honest I thought it would be smaller and kind of dinky, but it was amazing. The detail work was incredible, it was so smooth. His hair looked real and his muscle structure looked very good!

We also went on a tour of Florence. There were beautiful cathedrals, bridges, and a lot of shopping (especially for leather). One of the cathedrals held the actual burials for Galileo and Michelangelo – that was really neat to see.

After the tour we walked around a bit. A lot of the girls did some shopping. Becca bought her leather bags – while Johanna Solverson and Jamie Cavey bartered with the street venders.

We then again had our pre-game meal – that was fabulous and headed out for the game. Our game was on Italian National television. It’s not like me to criticize refereeing :), but I missed our Big Ten referees! The game was physical, and we fouled a lot. However, we were able to work on some of the things we needed to. We showed a lot of promise, but also some of the things we need to work on.

That night we went to a place where a lot of international students hang out called, “Central Park”. There were people from all over – Germany, England, Italy, Scandinavia, and others. We had a great time. The place even looked like paradise – there were palm trees and leather chairs and benches all over.

Day 6 – August 16
We were up and ready to go early this morning. Some of the fans, my family, and the Richards decided that we would take a train ride to see the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”. It was a lot bigger than I thought – we did not have much time there, but it was well worth the trip. After 45 minutes of my family taking, or should I say trying to take, pictures we headed back. We took some good shots, though. We had one pose where my sister pushed it over and my brother, brother-in-law and I were trying to push back. Another was of Brian leaning against it. Yet another, was my whole family in front of it tilting our heads (they call it the “Jennie head tilt” because I have always had a habit of tilting my head during pictures). And there were many others!

When we made it back to Florence we had the entire day to do whatever we wanted. Brian, Aunt Judy, and I had lunch and shopped. I am not a big fan of shopping, but I had a lot of fun! We bartered for belts, purses, and a lot of other things. We may have had a little too much luck with our shopping.

Some of the other girls had some success too. Jenna bought a European Michael Jackson jacket – it was pretty cool! Jamie bought a black and white vinyl bag – and yes Florence is known for the leather, but that is just Jamie – she liked it! Crystal spent the day finding souvenirs for her family. Lindsay Geoffroy also found an awesome leather coat.


Lillis and McCann on a gondola in Venice.



Day 7 – August 17
We are now in Venice – the sinking city. We had to take a boat to get to the actual city – it was very interesting. Venice actually contains 118 islands. There are literally bridges (small) that connect some of them… it is so crazy! We took a tour of the city and learned many things. There are so many shops and venders that we were able to look around for a couple of hours. My brother and I bought captain hats that say Venice on them… and just to note, they are very cool!

We also got to ride on the gondolas. Lindsay made the point that the rowers actually wear striped shirts, just like on TV! Our guy thought he was funny and acted like we were going to tip over – we screamed. We honestly thought we were going under. We were crying because we were laughing so hard. We said to him, “No funny! No funny!” (even though we all knew it was funny).

After the gondola ride we went to a futbol (soccer) game. There is a professional team staying in our hotel, so we decided to go see their match. It was crazy, but so much fun! It was neat to see their culture without the tourism!

Day 8 – August 18
Happy Birthday Becca and Lindsay!!!

We went back into the sinking city. First we all went to a glass factory, because Venice is now for their glass (they claim it is stronger than crystal). We were able to watch a guy make a vase and a stallion in maybe 30 seconds. We all sat there in astonishment. Then we toured the rest of the place – everything was a little out of our college student price range :)! However, Jamie bought champaign glasses for her sister’s wedding.


McCann and Lillis in Venice.



For the rest of the day we were on our own. I went shopping with my Aunt Judy – and again, we did very well. Our money was burning holes in our pockets – along with many others.

We had a few mishaps with pick pockets, but everyone is in pretty high spirits. We are learning from our mistakes, hopefully!

We headed to Udine that night. When we go to the hotel, we decided to have a surprise birthday party for Becca and Lindsay. Hollis and Brooke bought two cakes and candles. The coaches told us there was a team meeting and for everyone to be back down in the lobby in 10 minutes. Tiff and I were put in charge of creating a diversion. We had to make them late for the “meeting” – which would not be easy – there are penalties for being late to meetings. Here’s what we did… Tiff pretended she lost her diamond earring. However, she knew she either lost it in her room or our room. We searched and searched. Becca literally was lying on her stomach looking under the beds and then actually lifted the beds off the ground. We really had to act – Tiffany did a great job! Then my mom, who was in on it too, came up and said we had to hurry because Coach Jensen said so. So Tiffany sulked down the stairs as I followed trying not to laugh. We walked into the eating area and everyone yelled surprise and started singing “Happy Birthday”! They didn’t even know what hit them!

Day 9 – August 19
We were able to sleep in a little today. We had a tour of Udine. We had a lot of free time without shopping. It was a nice relaxing day to just hang out in a small town. We were just able to nap, talk with our families, and have a little rest time.

We again had a wonderful pre-game meal. We were in a little better spirits tonight after the game – I think because we played better and we won! The referees were a lot better too! One of the referees was so cute; he came up to me and said, “Down there, I make a mistake.” I am not sure, but that may have been the first time I have ever heard that; however, I have let many referees know that they have made mistakes. 🙂


Lillis and Cavey in Italy.



After the game we took a picture with the other team and were formally thanked – it was a really fun small town atmosphere. I also had a chat with one of the girls that spoke English. We also exchanged gifts – we gave them T-shirts (in which they put on after the game – I think they liked us), and they gave us these little stuffed animals that are collectibles (similar to our version of a beenie baby).

Some of us went out to eat with our parents and the supporters that night. We went to another pizzeria. However, this place served horse and fatty pig! Morgan and her parents ate the fatty pig, while we stayed clear of the horse at my end! We are heading to Como tomorrow in search of finding George Clooney (he has been spotted there several times in the last couple of weeks in People magazine)!

Day 10 – August 20
We left for Como today! On the way we stopped at Verona. Verona is the home of Romeo and Juliet. We visited the Capulet for a couple hours and saw the balcony Juliet stood when Romeo found her. Legend has it that if you want to have luck in love you should not only view the statue, you should touch her chest. We all had fun with these pictures (needless to say many of us could use a little help in that department :))!

When we reached Como everyone fell in love – it was SO beautiful! Our hotel is right on the lake. We reached there in the early evening so we had time to sightsee on our own. My dad and Mr. Richards tried to give us a tour of the city. We did see a statue of Mr. Alexander Volt – the man who invented voltz (I am not sure if that is really who it was, but that is what we were told. And you can imagine the picture I took with Kerry and Jamie!). We kind of gave up on the tour after a while and went for ice cream (gilato) instead!!!

That night the team decided to baby-sit Coach Bluder’s kids so her and Dave could go out for a romantic evening. Brooke and Hollis made reservations at a gorgeous restaurant right on the lake. They said it was a little different, but very nice.

We decided to have a fashion show, which included Hannah doing Tiff’s, Geoffy’s, and Jo’s make-up. Between Tiff’s blush job, Geoffy’s lipstick eye shadow, and Jo’s giant black uni-brow, we all had a great time!

After that some of us decided to go and walk around town. It was so neat to see the city all lit up. It was also the first night some of the girls broke down and went to McDonalds.

Day 11 – August 21
We took a boat to Bellagio in hope to find George Clooney! It was a little cold, but worth the trip. It was ironic that the one time it wasn’t hot, we wanted it to be. However, we did get a little closer. The wind was blowing our hair all over, and Becca had a little trouble with her skirt – but it sure made for good pictures! And as Coach Jensen said, “We need the wind to dry the crops.”

When we got to the island, we did the usual… shop! Como is known for their silk – it was a little funny seeing all of us try to buy ties for our friends back home. It really was a beautiful place.

On our way back we saw George Clooney’s house! We never saw him, but we can at least say we have seen one of his many houses!

We had a game in Switzerland. It went a little better this time – we played pretty well, but the good news is that there is always room for improvement.

I can hardly believe this is the last night here. It has gone so fast and we have don so much. We went to another pizzeria with all of us, and all of the supporters. This pizzeria also happened to be a karaoke place. First Tiff and Kris got up and sang a song from “Grease”. An Italian man sang “New York, New York” to us! We sang – we danced – we had a great time!

Day 12 – August 22
We traveled all day to get home! Toward the end of the trip we were all antsy and delirious. During our layover in Minneapolis we all attacked the American food! We played Uno and laughed hysterically (we were a little tired)!

Overall we had a wonderful time! I have been left with many funny and memorable moments – along with six rolls of film!

Special Thanks to everyone that made this possible! I know I will forget to thank many, but I want to especially thank those that shared the trip with us:

  • Dick and Barb Kasperek (Morgan’s parents)
  • Tom, Mary Beth, and Jason Richards (Lindsay’s family)
  • Sonja and Todd Faulkner (Kristi’s parents)
  • Chris McCann (Becca’s mom)
  • Mike and Pat Beal
  • LaVern and Rose Gordon
  • Grandma and Grandpa Geske (Coach Bluder’s parents)
  • Tami Kusian
  • Denise Hunt
  • Nancy Stefani
  • Harriet Labertew
  • Lisa and Laura Leonard
  • Ted and Kelsey Pacha
  • Hollis Hough – Basketball Travels Rep
  • Brooke Ingalls – Basketball Travels Rep
  • Mom, Dad, Brian, Aunt Judy, Renee, and Kerry (my family)

Thanks again, and we had a wonderful time!

Print Friendly Version