Italy and Greece 2019
In June of 2019, thirty-five of us left for the European countries of Italy and Greece. In Italy, we started our tour in Venice, then Florence, on to Rome and finished in Sorrento before departing to Greece. In Greece, we started in Igoumenitsa then to Meteora region, on Delphi, to Tolo and finished in Athens. My very first EF tour was in 2011 to Italy and Greece and we had just eleven travelers and it is amazing to see how big the traveling group has grown. As opposed to our 2011 9-day trip, this trip was our longest in length, lasting for 15 days. Above you will see a video I shot with my GoPro Hero 6 going through the cities and below you will see some testimonials from travelers, and some of my commentary and pictures. Enjoy.
"I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel. You fall in love with exploring the world. Being in Italy and Greece was an experience I’ll never forget. The world is so beautiful and being surrounded by people who make the journey even more fun, is an indescribable feeling. There is so much history everywhere you go and the culture is so different. You can’t help but fall in love with every single place and the people you met. I’m so grateful for this experience, and the many memories we made together."
-- Camille, ECHS Class of 2021
Visiting Italy and Greece have really opened my mind to new experiences and travel. Before this trip, I had never been outside the country. Seeing different cultures and ways of life is a eye-opening experience. I really loved Delphi due to the amazing geography. Delphi is an ancient city built in a very mountainous region. Being able to see connections from ancient architecture to modern is really amazing. I am so happy I had the opportunity to go on this trip!
-- Peter, ECHS Class of 2021
Italy is a wonderful country full of historic cities, and our tour hit some of the best Italy has to offer.
The "city of canals," spread over 119 islands, was founded following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Venice became the bridge between east and west trade, amassing quite a fortune in the Middle Ages. As the Portuguese and Spanish took control of trade, cutting out the Venetians, they remained one of the independent states of a fragmented Italy. It wasn't until 1866 that Italy unified under King Victor Emanuele II. The floating city was truly spectacular!
Venice is a series of islands and the only way to get to the main city is by boat. The picture on the left is of the very picturesque Gulf of Venice. On the right is a picture of Doge Palace. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. It is truly a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with multiple works from Renaissance artist like Titian and Veronese located inside.
Your trip to Venice is not complete without a canal ride. On the left, you can see a picture of part of our boat. These are pretty common walking around Venice, so it is no necessary to book ahead, but it may make sense to ensure you have a time and location. You can fit 4 -5 people on a boat, but they are a little less sturdy then we thought. I almost accidentally tipped the boat getting in. Like a bike ride is often the best way to see a city, the best way to see Venice is by boat.
The last time I took students to Florence we only had a quick 24 hours to see the city before heading to Rome. This time we had a couple of days there including a free day. Now free days are very rare on an EF tour, but I think they are great as long as you help your students with a plan. Traveling with 40+ can be tiring so having a free day or more likely a free afternoon breaks up the group size and allows students to explore the city on their own (of course they have a group and you have their numbers).
Florence, the "City of Lillies" was the cradle of the Renaissance and was run by the Medici family for centuries; it contains magnificent architecture and stunning art. The famous dome (the Duomo) pictured above both afar and close up in from the genius of architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Studying the Pantheon's dome in Rome, Brunelleschi started secretly working on designs for when/if the tasks ever opened up to finish the great Florence Cathedral. After he won the commission in an international contest, Brunelleschi invented a lifting machine driven by an ox to hoist and lower the brick and sandstone hundreds of feet in the air. It took him 16 years to complete and it was truly an inspiring piece of architecture. The Uffizi Gallery offers some of the best of the Italian Renaissance including Botticelli's Birth of Venus. The Academia offers Michelangelo's statue David, carved from one slate of marble at the age 26; it is simply breathtaking. You need to get tickets to both, and the line to the Academia can be particularly long, but it is worth it!
Sandro Botichelli, Birth of Venus (1480's)
Caravaggio, Medusa (1596)
Michelangelo, David (1504)
On our way to Rome, we were able to stop by the medeival town of Assisi. It was constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries and is home to the brilliant Saint Francis Basilica. The church, consecrated in 1253, has two levels and offers brilliant Byzantine frescoes, many by Giotto. Giotto helped bring perspective to the art world, and it wouldn't have been possible if the artist Cimabue had not discovered the former shepard sketching his sheep with a pointed rock and recognized his talent. Next time a kid/student is drawing, have a glance, perhaps you just met the next Giotto.
I have been fortunate enough to travel to Rome several times with teachers and students, so with the length of the tour, I thought I would just point to towards previous post. Here are ones from 2019, 2018, 2017.
Pompeii was ancient Roman city that was buried under Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and wasn't rediscovered until the late 1500's. They continue to explore it today, finding new structures as recent as 2018. We learned from our great guide Roberto that still 20% of the ruins remains unexcavated.
Mr. V singing
Mr. Vidosic was chose to sing in front of a grand audience. Although initially timid, Mr. Newton got him going.
After going through Pompeii and learning the ancient history of a tragic city, our group arrived in Sorrento a beautiful small town overlooking the Bay of Naples on the Amalfi Coast. We had an afternoon to swim and take in the charm of the small coastal town. This would be be our last stop in Italy before taking the ferry to Greece.
Ferry to Greece
We took an 8-hour ferry ride from Italy to Greece. The ferry ride was smooth, all of us got rooms, even though it was not overnight. Wifi cost a few euro, and there was food on the boat. We also got to play some ice breakers games on the deck (pictured below).
Kalambaka is a town is in the Meteora region, home to 6 working Eastern Orthodox monasteries which were created all the way back in the 15th century. It has the nickname the "city suspended in the air." The frescoes inside have exquisite detail and the architecture challenges what you thought was humanely possible.
The ancient Greeks considered Delphi to be the center of the world. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of its influence on the Ancient Greek world, its monuments and views still hold significance today. Our group got to visit the famed Oracle of Delphi, the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. We heard about the origins of the city from our local guide, she discussed how Zeus released two eagles, one from the West and one from the East and they came together on at this mountain so Zeus dropped stone down from the heavens to create Delphi. At Delphi you also can see where they hosted the ancient Olympic Games. Below you can see some pictures of the views, simply stunning.
Since I had to leave before Athens because of a prior commitment, this was my last night on the tour and it was spent in the wonderful beach town of Tolo. I don't think it could have been a better night, as the group signed up for the optional BBQ dinner cruise. We took a private boat to the small beach island, went swimming, snorkeling, hiking and enjoyed some wonderful dinner.
Our trip was full of historic sights, wonderful views, and charming people. We learned a little about the language, ate plenty of full and felt like we fully immersed in the culture of both countries. What a wonderful journey.