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A vacation to fill the soul

Two weeks away from work. I fear that for too many of today's newsroom managers, that kind of getaway is more likely to be related to hospitalization than to vacation. Even for those of us who teach journalists at Poynter, a two-week holiday is a blessing.

I was blessed in May. As my oldest son Noah graduated from Indiana University, my husband Neil dreamed up an extraordinary trip for the family. He identified that rare slice of time: a two-week window in which two college students and their working parents were free to travel. We chose Italy, a place the adults had seen but the boys had yet to visit. Neil was the leader on this adventure. He's an experienced international traveler who has a gift for planning. He navigates easily across languages, currencies and cultures. He rarely gets lost. When he does, he doesn't consider it a crisis, just a fun critical thinking challenge. Neil's travel philosophy is the lesson I want to share with you. He has always told our sons that to get the most out of travel, they need three attributes.

They should be: Curious Tireless Non-judgmental

I like that, probably because they are also the qualities of good journalists. I think we put all three into practice on this trip. At a half-day cooking class in a villa near Verona, Luisa Zecchinato taught us to make bruschetta and ravioli.

Curious: We wanted to learn more about Italian food, so we had dinner in the home of a Cesarina in Bologna. Cesarines are part of Italy's Home Food movement, local women who know and love regional recipes passed down through generations. They open their homes to guests who want to experience authentic recipes and local products. We also took a half-day cooking class in a villa near Verona, where our teacher Luisa Zecchinato taught us to make bruschetta and ravioli like we'd never enjoyed before. We learned a key Italian culinary philosophy: The pasta is the star, not the sauce.

Tireless: We walked as many 10 miles a day. Hop on, hop off bus tours are a great way to see city sights with guided commentary, but the best part is the hop off. Armed with maps, we wandered through narrow streets and explored churches, shops, trattorias, and those gelaterias Italians adore. I'm certain there are more gelato shops in Italy than Starbucks in any U.S. city. We climbed stairs and hills. We returned to some spots after dark, hoping they'd provide the kind of breathtaking shot we captured on our last night in Florence.

Non-judgmental: Nope, they don't offer Thousand Island or Ranch dressing for your insalata mista (mixed salad) in Italy and don't plan to. Yes, some stores close for several hours each afternoon and you'll have to deal with it. Yes, you have to ask for the check at an Italian restaurant or you'll grow old waiting for them to bring it. Yes, they've restricted indoor smoking in public places but wow, those Italians love to light up everywhere else. Hey, it's their country. You're the guest. Live, learn, and keep your judgment in check.

Exception: the taxi driver taking us to the Rome airport really shouldn't have been text messaging while driving 145 kilometers (90 miles) per hour, but I had to admire his dexterity.

I had my Flip camera with me on the trip, looking for ideas to bring home for SuperVision. On a beautiful day in Verona, I talked with our culinary coach Luisa Zecchinato about her teaching technique. She believes in having maximum participation from her students. That's smart. Adults tend to like hands-on, practical learning, whether it's manicotti or multimedia.

Leaders in today's pressure-cooker newsrooms may enjoy her laid-back approach to learning and life.

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