We’re constantly inspired by our travelers, and this recent Customized Tour is the latest example of that. Judy is a Group Coordinator who has been organizing groups of students to travel on EF Educational Tours and groups of adults to travel on EF Go Ahead Tours for many years. This summer, Judy organized her first Customized Tour to Italy, and it was a truly special celebration.
Judy’s group was comprised mostly of breast cancer survivors and their supporters, and during the trip, they spent two days participating in the Dragon Boat Festival. This international event takes place every four years and brings together teams of breast cancer survivors from all different countries to paddle in dragon boat races as a celebration of life. Judy ended up bringing over 70 travelers (that’s two buses, two hotels, and two Tour Directors!) to travel on the Italian extravaganza. Since they had enough people to do a Private Tour (you only need 14 people to make any tour private—find out all the details on Private Tours here), she designed her own itinerary. The main tour was in Florence, including two free days set aside for the International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission Dragon Boat Festival, and she added on two extensions for travelers to choose from: a pre-tour extension in Rome and a post-tour extension in Venice.
Judy is a lifelong traveler, so it comes as no surprise that she is inspired by the people who explore the world alongside her, but she said she’s never met a group of people like this group. “Inspiring hardly even touches it. Watching these ladies march in the parade at the festival, walk through the Vatican and the Colosseum in Rome, and ride gondolas in Venice—they got to do so many things that I think they never thought were possible. And I have to say, they were one of the most fun groups of people with whom I have ever traveled! They live and embrace each day.”
The travelers ranged in age from 35 to 77 and were members of four different breast cancer dragon bat teams from the Canadian Maritimes. These four groups are Breasts Ahoy from Saint John, New Brunswick; Tit Bateau from Moncton, New Brunswick; Abreast a River from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; and Bosom Buddies from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The paddling teams train and compete together in the warmer months and continuing exercising and doing social activities together the rest of the year. Beyond the fun of the hobby itself, these groups support one another and help each other get back out there and become active again.
“These ladies supported each other in every way from sincerely asking how each was doing to taking care of each other in the heat. I found it so uplifting to travel with them. I’ve traveled quite a bit—I’ve taken 22 trips with students on EF Educational Tours and this is my 6th Go Ahead Tour on which I’ve taken adults. I’ve loved every one of those experiences, but this group and this trip really touched my heart,” Judy said.
The woman who was the catalyst for this adventure was Patti, a breast cancer survivor. Patti had traveled on two of Judy’s previous Go Ahead Tours, so she reached out to Judy to see if Go Ahead Tours would be a good fit to organize a trip to Florence so her team, Breasts Ahoy, could participate in the International Dragon Boat event. The idea grew from there, with three other Maritime teams joining in on the fun.
“In 2011, I had breast cancer. I was doing chemo and a friend of mine was also doing chemo for her third time,” Patti shared. “There’s a Survivors Group here in the city and my friend called me and said she was picking me up on Monday night to go walking. I didn’t think I was up for it, but she wouldn’t have it. I ended up getting so sick afterward and told her I wasn’t up for it again, but the next week, there she was again. She was so determined and even wanted me to join her paddle boat team, Breast Ahoys, when we were done. I told her ‘I can’t paddle on a Dragon Boat team!’” Patti’s friend ended up passing away that year, and Patti forced herself to join the team in honor of her late friend. Fast forward a few years and Patti has taken over as the president of the team and helped bring this amazing journey to life.
Since becoming a breast cancer survivor, Patti has changed her perspective. “I fill every day now. I keep thinking that those minutes that you’re sitting around doing nothing are minutes that you might not have had. I’ve had that second chance, so I’m using up all my minutes now. It puts things into perspective—your friends and family are what’s important,” Patti said.
The festival in Florence
The dragon boat festival in Florence took place right on the famous Arno River. It began with the Pink Parade, where the groups came out dressed either in fun pink outfits or outfits that were typical of their countries. The festival had 32 teams from Canada, 33 from the U.S., and teams from Australia, Ireland, Italy, and beyond. There were 125 teams representing 18 countries, totaling 5000 participants in the competition! “When these ladies proudly marched in to our national anthem, there were tears rolling down my face—and on many of the ladies walking in—because they had made it there. That was something really special to see,” Judy shared. “The two days following the opening ceremony were racing days. When the ladies weren’t on the water, they were chatting with people from other countries to share experiences. They were able to be there, enjoy the camaraderie, and learn from others. At the closing ceremony, the boats lined up and everyone locked arms, and there was a drifting of flowers in memory of those who have passed. It was very moving.”
Bosom Buddies from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia were very proud that they placed in the top 25 out of 125 teams! In this past, some of the paddlers had participated in other international competitions, but what made this one so special was the trip that surrounded the Dragon Boat Festival. As Judy put it, “it was truly a celebration of life and travel and friendship.” Note that this is also an athletic competition.
The travel memories
Beyond the festival itself, the group enjoyed getting to know Florence, seeing the famous Pisa Tower, visiting the Tuscan hilltop town of San Gimignano, taking a cooking class, and sampling wine at a wine tasting. “We felt like a big family, all together celebrating,” Judy said. In addition to Florence, most of the group explored Rome and Venice on tour extensions.
“Our two Tour Directors, Biagio and Sabra, worked tirelessly to make this extraordinary for each of the travelers. We really had two superstars. They helped with transportation for the actual race, but not only that, they did the little things that make an excellent Tour Director outstanding. Sabra got small treats for some of the travelers, and Biago was always up for taking fun photos with the ladies and making everyone laugh. They made the tour great for each of these people, and I think the tour touched their hearts, too,” Judy said.
Ever had a travel experience that really touched your heart? Tell us in the comments below.