All roads lead to... Paris
Time is short as the group is moving constantly throughout Europe, but the last few days have been enriched by several beautiful experiences. A few days ago, we were in Cinque Terre, where we admired the colorful villages of the Italian coast. Even though very busy at this time of the year, it still offered the students a glimpse of the dolce vita, laying by the beach with a beautiful scenery. It also gave them an insight into communities that have been living there for a long time and developping peacefully in constant relationship with one another. One of other highlight you perhaps heard about what the cooking class, where students made ravioli, all kinds of pasta and delicious tiramisu! Everybody enjoyed themselves very much and will soon prepare delicious Italian food for you!
Monday, the group arrived in Paris and we first headed to the Pantheon where we reflected on French history, its great men, as is written on the monument "Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante". We then wandered in the beautiful gardens of the Luxembourg, where the French senate resides, before heading for some delicious crêpes dinner. The day after, we went and saw the Musée d'Orsay and its impressionists wonder. We continued with Rodin and the Invalides museum where we discussed the history of Napoleon just by his mausoleum.
Lastly, today, we visited the Sainte Chapelle and its touching and mesmerizing stained glass before walking through the historic and trendy neighborhood of le Marais. After some more discoveries in the city, it was time for the Louvre. We will come back in a post tomorrow about the Louvre experience, which deserves a post in its own right. Let us stay that "peak mass tourism" was attained. Stay tuned for more Paris news and the summary of our Versailles visit.
Last time we blogged, we were arriving in the beautiful Renaissance jewel that is Florence. Here, every street is filled with the glamour of the Medici Era and their undying sun, visible on every monument of this powerful city. The lys flower, symbol of the Medici and the French monarchy adorns every corner of our minds as we wander, reflecting on the notion of power in the hands of Machiavellian sovereigns. This sun, so powerful, is echoed in the heatwave that has struck Florence and made us eat so many gelatos...
In the last three days, we have hit every major landmark of Florentine history and culture. The Uffizi, the Galleria dell'Academia, the Bargello Museum, the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens and, finally, the imposing Duomo, where we once more reflected on the ravages of excessive tourism. The situation has become so bad that one cannot climb the Duomo without reservation, while the line to just enter the church is about two hours long. What does it say about our current world? What lessons can we draw from the combination of cosmopolitanism, affordable travel and a culture of instant gratification? Can these places of wonder really remain the same when they are overwhelmed by crowds of benevolent, yet invasive tourists? What becomes of the act of seeing and feeling and thinking?
This is why it is important to educate the younger generations about the meaning of Western Civilization, not only through the contemplation of its landmarks but also by reflecting on the current state and meaning of culture. Our adventures continue, safe and sound, full of stories and thoughts, ready to go further in our understanding of a civilization admired by many but understood by few.
More news from Italy !
The past three days have yet again been filled with interesting experiences. On Sunday, students discovered the incredibly well-preserved city of Pompeii. After a quick lecture on the destruction and resettlement of the site, we all wandered through the once lively city and imagined in great details how it would have been to live in Roman city, two thousand years ago. A few of the students were especially excited about this part of the trip and we made sure they got their fill of delicate frescoes and vivid testimonies from the past.
After a long bus ride through Italy, we finally reached Sienna in the evening, where we spent a first night exploring the lively Piazza del Campo and living a sweet Italian life of gelato and pastries. The next day was devoted to the visit of the city’s Palace, where political frescoes describe the advantages of orderly government and the pitfalls of bad and unorganized government. We continued with the Duomo and contemplated the allegory of the hill of wisdom: “HUC PROPERATE VIRI: SALEBROSUM SCANDATE MONTEM PULCHRA LABORIS ERUNT PREMIA PALMA QUIES”, which roughly translates to the idea that it is possible to obtain Virtue, but only with a lot of effort and through tranquility. Moreover, Sienna provided vibrant examples of medieval architecture as we walked from one small windy street to another.
Today, we finally made our way to Florence. We stopped in the village of San Gimignano, famous for its medieval skyscraper-like towers and its numerous museums of torture. We tasted truffle pasta, a landmark of Tuscan cuisine and ended the day in Florence, waiting for all the wonderful visits and discoveries to come!
News from Italy!
Days are rich and long here in Italy, but full of countless wonders. On Wednesday, the highlights of the day were the Forum Romanum and the Colosseum where we discussed Romans, their culture and institutions but more importantly their architectural achievements. Students enjoyed exploring the ins and out of the Colosseum. The next day, we finally reached the Vatican and its beautiful Sistine Chaptel. Interestingly enough, this visit was also the occasion of a discussion about the effects of mass tourism on historical landmarks. Like many other sites, such as the Acropolis or the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel is a must-see that attracts visitors and necessitates regulations so that all can see it. Thinking about the positive sides of affordable traveling and its drawbacks gave the students a better understanding of what they were experiencing.
Conversely, the next day was spent at the beach of Santa Severa near Rome, a spot untouched by tourism and where the students were in contact with a more authentic side of Italy. For those who had language skills, this was truly the time to use them! This day at the beach was followed by an evening at the Baths of Caracalla, attending Verdi’s opera La Traviata. As I told the students, opera is not optional if you want to understand Western Civilization.
Today, we moved on to Naples, beginning with its impressive archaeological museum where all the finds of Pompeii are to be seen (including the famous Alexander mosaic) and continuing with Neapolitan pizza, enjoying it the way it was always meant to be. We then arrived to the beautiful coastal region of Sorrento, taking in the far-away view of Mount Vesuvius, the ominous volcano that destroyed the city of Pompeii, preserving it for us to see throughout the millenia.
Right now, students are stargazing from the balconies of their rooms, spotting shooting stars and reflecting on their experience that already led them from Athens to Rome and to this remote and peaceful place where they are now.
Second day in Rome! Today, we started with a tour of several of Rome's most beautiful churches. We studied how Renaissance artists painted ceilings and constructed magnificent religious facilities. After that, we reflected on the history of the Piazza di Spagna before buying food for a delicious picnic lunch in the Borghese Park. Then came the real highlight of the day: the villa Borghese and its numerous masterpieces, both paintings and sculptures. Everybody was very impressed by the quality of the marble works. Tomorrow, we are off to see the Capitoline Museum, the Ara Pacis, the forum and the Colosseum. This will be a great opportunity to learn about Roman history from its majestuous ruins. Ciao da Roma!
We arrived safely in Rome! We started with a walk through the city, led by our local, James the art historian! More news tomorrow from the Villa Borghese...
News from the Western Civilization program!
These past few days have been wonderful with the whole group. Yesterday, we had a great day where we finally got to see the Acropolis! This magnificent example of Greek culture and art was an occasion to reflect on Greek religion, architecture and ideology – in the form of narratives depicted on marble metopes.
After some delicious Greek food, free time was devoted to shopping and getting Froyo. According to the students it is perhaps “the best frozen yogurt in the world”. We then walked to the National Archaeological Museum, where we reflected on types of statues, saw the iconic mask of Agamemnon and discussed the countless aspects of beauty in Greek art. We continued with a gargantuan Cretan dinner where no less than sixty little appetizer plates were ordered!
The day ended with a Greek love song festival in the Niarchos Stavros Foundation. It was an authentic local experience with Greek people, from babies in strollers to old couples dancing, and young people in little groups sitting on the grass.
Today was the first day-trip of the program. We first went to Mycenae, the grand palace of the king Agamemnon and its Cyclopean walls. We introduced the students to the Bronze Age, its link with the poems of Homer in the Iliad and its form of centralized palace economy that eventually collapsed to give way to the Dark Ages of Greece.
We then continued unto Epidaurus, which hosts the most well-preserved theater in Greece. We showed the students that its acoustic was so perfect that a coin falling at the center of the stage could be heard clearly up to the last row of seats of this wonderful piece of ancient architecture.
After that, it was time to go to the beach and enjoy the warm water and the Greek summer! We ended the day in two groups, one that went and discovered Nafplio while the other climbed up 999 stairs to have a towering view over the Nafplio bay.
Tomorrow: Beach Day!!! Everybody’s very excited.
Hello from Athens!
Today we arrived in Athens and settled into Plaka Hotel. We unpacked and rested up a bit before exploring the main square. The students had many great questions regarding the architecture and culture. We dined at The Old Tavern, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the city. We rounded out the evening with snacks and a rousing game of historical Pictionary. Click the button below for the photos!
Hi everyone! My name is Matthieu Abgrall and I will be leading, with my colleague Nicole Jacoberger, students through their cultural experience across Europe towards the discovery and understanding of the foundations of Western Civilization.