When four Niles residents arrived in Pisa, Italy, June 14 for a short visit, they were greeted by familiar faces. Members of Pisa's Sister Cities committee had come to Niles in 2010 and 2011.
Niles Mayor Robert Callero, his wife Rita Callero, Niles Village Manager George Van Geem and Niles Village Attorney Joe Annunzio all made the trip. Annunzio serves as the village's Sister Cities Committee chairman for Pisa, but has said he intends to resign that post.
"Aurora Cantini was our very gracious tour director. She came here last year with a group of high school students. She led us around to tourist sites and events (in Italy)," Van Geem said.
Paolo Mancini, a Pisa city council member, was also among those who had visited Niles last year and reconnected with the group.
The group discussed how to make the Sister Cities connection more valuable, Van Geem said. Ideas such as student exchanges, import/export business connections and staff internships were discussed.
The Pisans took the Niles visitors on cultural sightseeing tours of the Leaning Tower complex, as well as Florence and Lucca, and hosted a dinner with city council members.
The highlight of the trip, Van Geem said, was the annual June 16 Pisa Luminara Celebration, in which the city places tens of thousands of lights on buildings lining the Arno River, and lights up the sky with fireworks. It honors San Ranieri, the city's patron saint.
"They invited us for that particular weekend because they're very proud of their heritage and traditions, and thought it would give us a view of Pisa culture," Van Geem said.
The Sister Cities trips are open to any Niles resident, though typically they get involved with volunteering for the organization, Van Geem said. A resident was scheduled to go on the trip, but got sick at the last minute.
No public money was used for the trip, he added. The Niles Sister Cities organization holds an to fund its budget.
After the Niles delegation returned, some trustees asked questions about the village's relationship with its Sister Cities organization, and said they wanted to clarify and document it, at the June 24 village board meeting. Van Geem said that discussion would take place at the next Finance Committee meeting, tentatively scheduled for July 18 at 8 a.m.