Monthly Archives: November 2014

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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A Hidden Gem on Penn’s Campus: Neighborhood Bike Works

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By: Amanda Hemmer, D’09

While attending Penn Dental, I would often buy lunch from Rami’s food truck on 40th Street, and enjoy my falafel on a bench lining Locust Walk in front of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. It has been five years since I graduated dental school and coincidentally, I have returned to Locust Walk and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. However, things have changed, Rami’s has been replaced with the Marrakesh Express, and I no longer stay on a bench outside, I actually go into the Church, and downstairs to an organization called Neighborhood Bike Works.

nbw6I learned about this organization through my husband, who became involved with the non-profit after participating in an Adult Repair Co-op at Neighborhood Bike Works called Bike Church. The more we learned about Neighborhood Bike Works, the more we grew to admire this hidden gem on Penn’s campus. The mission of Neighborhood Bike Works is to increase opportunities for urban youth in underserved neighborhoods in greater Philadelphia through bicycling.

The flagship program of Neighborhood Bike Works is called Earn-A-Bike in which youth learn the basics of bike repair and maintenance, safe urban riding, and health and nutrition while refurbishing a donated bike. Students earn the very bikes they learn to repair by participating in the classes. Many of the graduates of the 15 session course continue to work in the shop and earn hours they can trade for more bikes, parts, and accessories, as well as participate in many other more advanced programs such as Race Team, Leadership and Advanced Mechanics Courses, and Ride Club. These programs are free to the participants, ages 8-18.

Neighborhood Bike Works also has a lot to offer the general public as well; they have a shop in the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where you can stop in and purchase a used bicycle, or get parts, repairs, and maintenance for a bike you already own. They also offer adult repair classes and community outreach events.

This past summer, my husband and I spent four days with Neighborhood Bike Works youth, volunteers, and staff on a four day bike ride called the Ride of Dreams. It is part fundraiser, part youth initiative and entirely a lot of fun. We started our journey at the Church on Penn’s campus and rode to Hershey and back for a total of 250 miles. It was a wonderful experience getting to know the youth and volunteers along the scenic Pennsylvania countryside.

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Neighborhood Bike Works is currently looking for more volunteers, staff and even new board members. If you are interested in becoming involved in this amazing organization that is improving the community around UPenn and impacting urban youth, please contact:

Carol Borek at

carol@neighborhoodbikeworks.org

http://www.neighborhoodbikeworks.org/

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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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