Category Archives: Penn Alumni Travel

Penn Alumni Travel, Iberian Trade Routes, 2014

Author: Penn Professor Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, History of Art Department

When our plane touched down at 8am in Barcelona the first thing that I wanted to do was make a beeline to La Boqueria, the recently restored and restocked public market in the heart of the city. Filled with vendors selling raw and prepared foods, glistening fish, octopus, and barnacles fresh from the Mediterranean, and ridiculously indulgent Spanish jamón, La Boqueria is a perfect place to have a quick and hearty gourmet meal, counter-style, so that you can keep on moving and see as much as possible of this amazing Catalan city. We had a lovely plate of foraged wild mushrooms, sautéed in olive oil and topped by a fried egg, a small caña of beer, and some bread before taking in the beauty of the Antoni Gaudí designed Casa Battló.

A cured meat and cheese stand in La Boqueria, the premiere public market in Barcelona.

A cured meat and cheese stand in La Boqueria, the premiere public market in Barcelona.

We had such a fun-filled day in Barcelona that we barely made it to the magnificent MV Tere Moana for our sail away at 6pm that first night. I was very glad that we did arrive in time because the itinerary, which included Mallorca, Ibiza, Granada, Sevilla, Gibralter, the Algarve, and Lisbon, was fantastic.

Of the five different cruise ships that I have enjoyed sailing on as a faculty host with Penn Alumni Travel, the MV Tere Moana was definitely the most elegant and intimate. With staterooms for less than 100 guests, it was very much like traveling on a private yacht. The ship’s charming and well-trained staff attended to the needs of each traveler individually. By the second night Jonny, the bartender knew my preference for a little Tio Pepe sherry before dinner and Macallan for afters, and by the third he was beginning to make suggestions of custom cocktails that I might like to try. And with drinks being all-inclusive, why not?

Our home for the week, the MV Tere Moana, was patiently waiting for us in its berth in Barcelona.

Our home for the week, the MV Tere Moana, was patiently waiting for us in its berth in Barcelona.

Well, the very busy itinerary on this trip was a good reason not to indulge too much. Each day was filled with a morning excursion, lunch back on the ship, and then another afternoon excursion followed by just an hour or two of downtime before a lovely dinner. The tour directors from Gohagen kept everything running smoothly and the local guides at each destination made sure that all our questions were answered, from which medieval people had occupied that fortification overlooking the Atlantic in the Algarve region of Portugal, to where to buy the best souvenirs in lovely Mallorca.

The Portuguese Algarve region is home to lovely old villages and fortifications.

The Portuguese Algarve region is home to lovely old villages and fortifications.

And Mallorca, truly the pearl of the Mediterranean, was the highlight of this trip for me. This was the first time that I had visited this delightful, continental-flavored Balearic island filled with gorgeous nineteenth century architecture and an endless harbor jam-packed with enormous yachts. I could have spent the whole week in Mallorca sitting in cafés, drinking coffee and eating lovely pastries.

Almost as satisfying as Mallorca were the stunning cliffs of Gibralter, alive with wild monkeys and riddled with natural caves and military tunnels. I was surprised by how happy the monkeys made me, they were just so cute and funny and absolutely everywhere — climbing on the parade of minivan taxis that snake up and down the side of “The Rock” ferrying tourists to the various attractions that are only reachable via closed roads. As a part of Great Britain with a special economic status, Gibralter was the spot to get a plate of fish and chips and also the best deals on duty free, which seemed to be the main attraction down at sea level.

“The Rock”

“The Rock”

The monkeys of Gibralter are surprisingly fun to watch.

The monkeys of Gibralter are surprisingly fun to watch.

Visit Penn Alumni Travel at http://www.alumni.upenn.edu/travel

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Penn Alumni Travel Galapagos FAQs

Author: Alyssa D’Alconzo, Ed.D. GED’04, GRD’11

It’s been two months since Penn Alumni Travel returned from the Galapagos Islands, but few days go by without someone asking a question about our magical trip. Below are my answers to our Galapagos FAQs. Do you have questions or want to join us for Machu Picchu to the Galapagos in December 2015? Click Here or e-mail PATravel@pobox.upenn.edu!

  1. Where are the Galapagos Islands?

For many people on our trip, traveling to the Galapagos was a bucket list item and, for all of us, it was a trip of a lifetime. But other people I’ve spoken with aren’t quite sure where the Galapagos Islands are located.

This archipelago of volcanic islands is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles west of Ecuador. Part of the country of Ecuador, the islands are distributed on either side of the equator.  To reach them, we flew from the United States to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador.

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Next, we took a small plane to the Galapagos (Baltra Island, to be specific).

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Once on Baltra, we received a warm welcome from our naturalist guides and boarded zodiacs to the National Geographic Endeavour.

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  1. How were the ship accommodations?

The National Geographic Endeavour is an expedition ship and while that means it lacks some of the traditional luxury items associated with a traditional cruise ship (multiple restaurants, televisions in cabins, room service, etc.), it certainly doesn’t mean it’s lacking in safety or comfort. The small, stabilized ship, holding only 96 guests in 56 outside cabins, is fully air conditioned with a small pool, fitness center, cozy library, and lounge with a full-service bar. It’s kept immaculately clean and there’s even a spa — if you can find time to take advantage of it! (See FAQ #3)

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To explore the Galapagos, being on an expedition ship is a great advantage. It carries snorkeling gear, kayaks, underwater cameras, a fleet of zodiacs, and a glass-bottom boat.

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With so many toys and so much to see, you’re not likely to miss the Lido! Besides, you’ll never find a traditional cruise ship with an “Open Bridge” policy like the one they have on the Endeavour.

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An open bridge means the captain and officers welcome guests any time of day or night and are happy to show you how the equipment works and answer questions about sailing and navigation.

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It’s truly fascinating to experience and I loved being in the bridge when we crossed the equator for the second time.

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  1. How physically active was the trip?

Visiting the Galapagos on an expedition ship does require physical mobility, as you’re accessing each island via zodiac and the terrain on each island is different. That said, there were plenty of options for people of all physical ability levels. For example, while there was hiking each day, there was always an option for shorter walks or longer hikes. If you didn’t want to snorkel, you could ride the glass bottom boat. Not up for kayaking? Go on a zodiac ride!

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Your activity level over the course of the week will depend on your ability and interests, but you will not be without lots of options! For example, one of my favorite days was when I completed what I called the “Galapagos Triathlon” – kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking all in the same afternoon! Yet while I was rushing on and off the ship with all kinds of gear, other passengers were enjoying a relaxing afternoon in a lounge chair on the deck or participating in only one or two of the activities.IMG_8428

  1. Could you touch the animals?

The absence of predatory mammals in the Galapagos means that you are nearly always within arm’s reach of endemic species unlike those you’ve probably ever seen before. Sea lions, blue and red footed boobies, finches, tortoises, marine and land iguanas, flightless cormorants, sea turtles, sharks, and many others fill the days and camera memory cards, but physically touching them is against Galapagos National Park rules. The guides ensure that all passengers follow these rules, so that the islands remain preserved for future visitors.

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  1. How were your guides?

Our guides were phenomenal. We had a group of naturalist guides who seemed to know everything about the flora and fauna of the islands and were incredible leaders on our hikes, zodiac rides, and snorkeling and kayaking adventures.

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The work of the naturalist guides was complemented by undersea specialists who shared fascinating video of what was happening beneath the surface of the water. Add in our Faculty Host, Michael Weisberg, who gave engaging lectures about Darwin, evolution, adaptation and speciation, and it was an incredible learning experience!

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  1. How many Penn alumni were on the tour?

There were 14 alumni on this tour departure, and we had a great time experiencing and learning about the Galapagos together! We were all proud to see the Penn flag flying high above the National Geographic Endeavour all week

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and even enjoyed some exclusive chances to catch up and get to know one another, apart from the larger group.

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  1. What kind of camera did you use?

I probably get this question more than any other! I brought a DSLR, a point and shoot, and my iPhone. They all took great pictures, but that’s probably because every Endeavour trip has a Photo Specialist on-board and many of the guides are photo-certified, as well. They’re all very accessible and always looking out for passengers to ensure they get the best possible photos. On multiple occasions guides would make recommendations for my camera settings or photo angles. Their advice proved to be invaluable and I’ve even noticed I take better pictures with my new knowledge (get eye level with the subject!) now that I’m home.

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  1. Would you go back to the Galapagos?

Without a doubt! It truly was a magical trip. In fact, Penn Alumni Travel will be going to the Galapagos again in December 2015. I also can’t say enough good things about our wonderful faculty host, Michael Weisberg, and our tour operator, Lindblad Expeditions. I eagerly welcome the opportunity to travel with both of them again and we’re making plans for 2016 now. Stay tuned for our full 2016 schedule to see when Michael Weisberg will be hosting and where we’ll be sailing with Lindblad. I hope to see you on our next departure!

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Penn Alumni Travel: Flavors of Tuscany

Author: Professor Michael Gamer, Department of English

By its gastronomic and vinophilic nature, our foray into Tuscany with Penn Alumni Travel transcended the usual stuff of tourism. Part of the reason was the location of our base: the Podere Ciona vineyards in the heart of the Chianti region, owned and operated by Franca Gatteschi. Nestled in the hills, the winery really was a rural idyll. The dawns were misty and the evenings (on clear nights) were full of stars. The mid-October weather cooperated and the views each morning were serene:

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Then there was the size of our group: nine of us joined by six alumni from Wake Forest University. Whenever I teach a seminar here at Penn I find 14-15 to be the perfect size: it maximizes the give-and-take of discussion without placing too much onus on any one person. The same went for our Tuscan group; by the end of the trip we all really had gotten to know one another.

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Here you see us on our second-to-last day, in Brolio with the Castello Brolio in the background. Given how much by then we’d done — and consumed — we look pretty good on the whole. There had been the three hill towns of the Chianti Classico region (Radda, Gaiole, Castellina), cheese tastings and Sunday dinners in the Arezzo area, a cooking class in San Martino followed by Monte Sant’ Edigio, the monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi; there had been Cortona and Siena. That night would be the cooking class with the four Tuscan Mammas, and the next day there would be Florence. With the exception of Florence, I had never visited any of these places, and they were wonderful; and, given the difference between Florence in high season and in October, even that city seemed entirely new to me.

What made this trip so memorable for me, though, was our guide, Marco Messina. That the group adored him would be an understatement. Like any great teacher, he brought knowledge, kindness, patience, and humor to the project of showing us Tuscany. But he also did more than that; on the way, we met his family and friends. No matter the town or winery, museum or restaurant, Marco would find a way to lead us backstage:

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From master olive oil, cheese-, and bread-makers to our coach-driver, Fabio, the meetings were informative, memorable, fun, and, above all, genuine. My own favorite memory is the evening we spent at Castiglion Fiorentino — where, after a terrific meal we found ourselves being let into a closed Civic Museum to see Etruscan ruins. Then, as the sun was setting, we were treated to a 45-minute performance of flag-tossing as the sun was setting. Those of us who had been on cheerleading and pep squads finally had the answer to the question of flag- and letter-twirling’s origins — in this medieval mix of martial art and dance.

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I’m hoping everyone else enjoyed this trip as much as I did. Hope as well to see you next year on the Machu Picchu and Galapagos trip!

[Professor Gamer will be hosting the 2015 Penn Alumni Travel trip, Machu Picchu to the Galapagos. Click here for more details or click here to view all our 2015 tours.]

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Penn Alumni Travel: Castles and Cathedrals of France

Author: Lynn Marsden-Atlass, Director of the Arthur Ross Gallery

[This post was written during a Penn Alumni Travel trip exploring the Provincial French Countryside. To view our 2015 schedule of tours, click here.]

October 16, 2014

Today we are touring the Renaissance castle of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Henri II gave his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, this lovely castle that spans the Cher River.  It reflects perfectly the Renaissance style with beautiful paintings, tapestries, furniture, painted ceilings, and floor tiles executed by Italian and French Renaissance artists and workmen.

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We began our journey last Thursday in Toulouse, one of the great pilgrimage destinations during the Middle Ages with two exceptional examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the basilica of St. Sernin and the cathedral of St. Etienne.  Today Toulouse is a center for commerce and college students – Airbus builds their planes here, and the cafés in the place St. George are full of people enjoying a coffee or an aperitif talking to one another. Face to face. The square buzzes with voices. No cell phones in the café.

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In Albi we visited their remarkable cathedral, and the Palais de La Berbie that houses the museum of Toulouse-Lautrec, and gardens.  A native son, Lautrec is esteemed today for his lithographs and posters.  He designed these for his friends who were Montmartre’s performers at café-concerts, at the Moulin Rouge, or for Aristide Bruant at Le Mirliton. Scandalous outliers, such as La Goulule and Jane Avril, gained notoriety and fame through Lautrec’s posters.

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Our medieval pilgrimage continued on Tuesday with a visit to Rocamadour. This is a  superb site set in a breathtaking valley with a deep river bed. The houses are built vertically on rock. Above those the church with its famous Chapelle de la Vierge noire (black virgin) is perched, and above the church is a castle.  We climbed 262 steep steps to reach Rocamadour’s churchyard. Eleanor of Aquitaine climbed those same steps on her knees!

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Sarlat is one of the Dordogne’s picturesque towns whose specialties include mushrooms, confit of duck, walnuts, and foie gras made from duck or goose liver.  We enjoyed touring this town, its church, and Bishopry. Some of us paid special homage to the local geese in the “Place des Oies”.

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On our way to Saumur, we paused to admire Chinon, the castle of Charles VII. A 16-year-old Jean d’Arc traveled here after having a dream that she must assist Charles VII. Jean d’Arc later defended her King in battle, before being burned at the stake.

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The Loire Valley is resplendent with castles everywhere. In the 16th century King Francois I settled in the Loire valley surrounded by his court. Francois I brought Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, to France to decorate his castles in the new Renaissance style.

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The Penn Alumni on this trip are fantastic. Smart, enthusiastic, curious, with a good sense of humor, our band of seventeen has a wealth of knowledge in all disciplines. The camaraderie of the group is especially lively in our bus conversations and over leisurely meals that feature great regional specialties and wines. Vive la France!

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A bientot,

Lynn

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Penn Alumni Travel: Lascaux

Author: Laura Foltman

[Staff host Laura Foltman is traveling with Penn alumni, friends, and faculty host Lynn Marsden-Atlass through France. The group returns to the U.S. on October 22nd. For more information about Penn Alumni Travel trips, click here.]

“C’est formidable!” Judith Forman, CW’63, G’66, stated as we exited Lascaux II.  We weren’t sure what to expect with this stop on the Penn Alumni Travel tour of the provincial French countryside.  Our guide, Ms. Elsa Marechal, explained that Lascaux II was a fake cave of prehistoric paintings.  “Ugh!” we all thought.  Here is a tourist trap on what has been an otherwise fantastic trip.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lascaux, the original cave, is located near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region of France.  One day, in the 1940s, Marcel Ravidat’s dog got lost in the woods.  Marcel found the dog stuck in a hole.  When he rescued the dog he noticed rocks were falling and echoing below the hole.  He took the dog back to the house, grabbed shovels, flashlights, and three friends, returned to the spot, and started to dig.  They soon found themselves in a large shaft that lead to two large caves.  The four friends began exploring, not seeing anything noteworthy until one of the boys slipped and fell on his back.  When his flashlight hit the ceiling he found something extraordinary: about 2,000 figures that were painted 17,300 years ago!  The boys made a pact that this would be their secret hiding place and wouldn’t tell anyone.  Remember, these are teenage boys.  How long do you think the secret lasted?  Three days!

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The cave complex was open to the public in 1948 and averaged 1,200 visitors per day: extraordinary numbers for the time.  All the visitors changed the climate in the cave.  Carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and other contaminants were visibly changing the paintings and lichen began growing on the walls.  Thus Lascaux II, a replica of the great hall where the majority of the paintings are located, was built in 1983 so that visitors can view the caves without damaging the original paintings.  The tour isn’t just a replica, it is an EXACT replica of the current cave as they update it every 3 years to reflect the state of the real cave.

Penn Alumni had a terrific tour guide named Dave Cohen who called Neanderthals a modern equivalent of Rugby players!  Lifelong learning continued for our Penn alumni as they dominated the tour by asking thought-provoking questions such as:

“Why, out of the 2000 images, is there only one image of a human?”

“Are any of the depicted animals domesticated?”

“What is the chemical make-up of the paints to make them last so long (the drawings can not be carbon dated)?”

“How were Neanderthals able to understand motion and perspective?”

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Lascaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the alumni on this trip now understand why.  If you want to find out more information, including the state of the current cave and some of the famous depictions of the images, go to http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/?lng=en – /en/02_00.xml

The  group poses for a pictures in Albi.

The group poses for a picture in Albi.

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Penn Alumni Travel: A Watercolor Record

Author: Barbara Seymour, GLA’82

[The author and artist, Barbara Seymour, traveled on a Penn Alumni Travel trip to the “Celtic Lands” this past spring. Some people take photographs on tours. Others write in journals. Barbara decided to record the tour in watercolors. Below is a snapshot of her beautiful memories.]

My travel watercolor kit.

My travel watercolor kit.

As a watercolor painter, I was so inspired by the Scottish landscapes we saw on the Celtic Lands trip.  Since I live in the woods in the Philadelphia area, the open sky, sea and mountains were a new and challenging subject.  I found myself looking for subjects with all these elements to photograph and paint.

In the Hebrides.

In the Hebrides.

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I also loved the changing light and how it affected the landscape, casting shadows over hills and sea.  Clouds became an obsession!

Old ruins and castles make marvelous subjects.

The ruins of an old monastery on the Isle of Iona.  (with iris in bloom and shepherd and sheep!)

The ruins of an old monastery on the Isle of Iona. (with iris in bloom and shepherd and sheep!)

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull.  (with yellow Grouse blooming in the foreground).

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull (with yellow Gorse blooming in the foreground).

I found a spot on Iona that almost reminded me of home: A tiny little path between fields, with a stone wall.

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I found this image of an abandoned fishing boat poignant, suggestive of the ravages of time.

I found this image of an abandoned fishing boat poignant, suggestive of the ravages of time.

Celtic Crosses were everywhere, ancient and new. I also got a chance to paint the little white flowers blooming everywhere in the grass.

Celtic Crosses were everywhere, ancient and new.  I also got a chance to paint the little white flowers blooming everywhere in the grass.

Finally, I chose this old stone bridge, with a very challenging stoney river flowing underneath.

Finally, I chose this old stone bridge, with a very challenging stoney river flowing underneath.

Scotland is wonderfully inspiring for a watercolor painter.  I am not finished with it yet!

[Barbara will be having two Open Houses showing and selling these and other paintings this fall.  All are welcome!  View her website here. The dates are Sunday, November 16th, 2014, 1-5 pm and Sunday, December 7th, 2014, 1-5 pm.   The address is:
Headlong House
307 Moylan Avenue
Media, PA 19063

( 2 blocks from the Moylan-Rose Valley SEPTA train station).]

 

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Penn Alumni Travel: Unforgettable Galapagos

Author: Liz Drayer, C’83

Darwin and blue-footed boobies.  That’s what I thought when I heard Galapagos, before we signed on for this September adventure.  Then our copies of Origin of Species arrived in the mail, courtesy of Penn Alumni Travel.  Wow, I thought I’ve never cracked this historic volume.  Now’s the time.  I made it through Chapter One before resorting to Evolution for Dummies.  But no problem – Professor Michael Weisberg filled in the blanks once we arrived.

The fun began when we boarded the National Geographic Endeavor, with its first-rate facilities and staff who catered to our every need.  How many times had I tried to win this exact trip on the Jeopardy sweepstakes?  With less than seventy guests, we were able to get to know everyone during the course of the week.  You can’t help but make friends nestled “cheek to cheek” in the Zodiacs, the motorized rafts deployed daily to ferry us to the islands.

Each morning began with a wakeup from Carlos, the ship’s master of ceremonies and naturalist extraordinaire.  Then it was off to explore the island du jour, each with unique topography and endemic species of animals and plants.  We practically tripped over iguanas, nursing sea lions and glittering Sally Lightfoot crabs, all oblivious to our comings and goings.  The naturalists’ encyclopedic knowledge deepened our appreciation for all we saw, and we marveled at Brian, our videographer/stunt man, who scaled precipices barefoot to nab the perfect shot.

“Scaly” is not a four-letter word.

“Scaly” is not a four-letter word.

Our shipmates made the trip special – a diverse group of all ages and backgrounds.  The wide-ranging activities offered something for everyone.  Snorkeling with sharks and sea turtles.  Scaling volcanic formations.  Kayaking and glass bottom boats.  Magnificent vistas and sugar cane farms.  And my personal favorite, the Galapagos Tortoise, those plodding kings that once thrived on the islands, now bred by researchers hoping to restore their prior glory.

America’s next top model.

America’s next top model.

We wound down each day in the cozy library, sipping cocktails and watching the cottony clouds waft across the horizon.  Evenings featured local cuisine and music, barbeques and crossing-the-equator parties.  A highlight of the trip was the excellent lecture series featuring Penn’s Professor Weisberg, that left me craving the classrooms of Bennett Hall.

These island getaways are exhausting.

These island getaways are exhausting.

We capped off the week with a day in Guayaquil, fraternizing with reptiles that hang from the trees in Iguana Park.  We marveled at yellow-jerseyed fans streaming into the soccer stadium, arriving at ten for a four o’clock game.  Ecuadorians take their football seriously….

Huge thanks to Alyssa D’Alconzo, Director of Alumni Education, Travel, and Career Networking, for organizing this fabulous trip.  Nothing sums up our nine days like Carlos’ favorite superlative:  Fantastic!

*Liz Drayer is an attorney and writer in Clearwater, Florida.  Her most recent short story, Crashers, appears in the June 2014 issue of Prick of the Spindle literary magazine.  Her email is edrayer@tampabay.rr.com.

[If this blog has inspired you to travel with Penn Alumni Travel, visit our full 2015 schedule here. We will be returning to the Galapagos in 2015 with the tour Machu Picchu to the Galapagos, December 1-15, 2015.]

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