Tag Archives: Italy

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: Portrait of Italy 2014

Author: Ann de Forest

Our Penn Alumni Travel tour through Italy began on the picturesque Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea and ended at the opposite end of the country in Venice, where the Adriatic flows to form its characteristic lagoon and canals. Led by Joe Farrell, Professor of Classical Studies, and our indispensable Italian tour director Enrica Angeli, our fourteen days of travel across the peninsula from south to north, with stops in Rome, Umbria, and Tuscany, were packed with delights. Information, insights, stimulating conversations, natural wonders, and of course, memorable food and wine were ours in abundance. Late spring was a perfect time of year to experience Italy at its most glorious. The weather was splendid: days, for the most part, were sunny and clear, ending in spectacular sunsets as the evening cooled.

This is a view of the costiera amalfitana, the Amalfi coast, where we began our tour.

This is a view of the costiera amalfitana, the Amalfi coast, where we began our tour.

There were twenty-two of us in all gathered at the luggage carousel in the Naples Airport on the last day of April. Joe, our faculty guide (and also my husband) had already whetted participants’ curiosity with a pre-tour webinar, and in his first lecture, he traced Italy’s history back much farther than the ancient Roman civilization that is the focus of his research, to deep geological time. Italy was formed by the collision of two tectonic plates that pressed together to form the Appenine Mountains, which run like a rocky backbone through the peninsula, dividing regions and creating, in human history, isolated pockets for peoples to develop cultures adapted to specific, local conditions. Earthquakes, volcanoes and other geological upheaval shaped not only Italy’s distinctive, picturesque landscape but also the particular character of individual towns and cities. Throughout our two weeks, we saw again and again how, in Italy, geology is destiny.

We experienced Italy’s topography at its most dramatic on the day of arrival. As we made our way to our hotel in in the seaside town of Maori, we wound our way along the precipitous cliffs of the Amalfi Coast (see below), marveling at the bravura and skill of our bus driver on those narrow, hair-raising ascents and descents, and at his finesse in squeezing by other buses coming in the opposite direction.

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Our first full day, May 1, is a holiday in Italy and the rest of Europe, where Labor Day marks the beginning rather than the end of summer.  So we set out early to beat the holiday crowds. Our first stop is a dazzling jewel of a town, tiny, pristine Ravello, perched high above the sea. The main attraction there was the Villa Rufolo, a medieval castle that fell into ruin and was restored in the early twentieth century by a Scottish industrialist. As we ambled in the formal Renaissance garden terrace (below) and admired the view of sparkling aquamarine water beyond it, a few in our group discussed the Allied invasion of this intricate, treacherous terrain during WW II. Enrica had supplied us with a hand-drawn map for reference. This conversation set the tone for discussions that would continue throughout the trip. Our very first day and stop gave us a quintessentially Italian experience, in which different moments of history overlap, and land, water, art and architecture no matter how tranquil or inspiring bristle with stories of war, conquest and disaster.

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Just as the town was filling up with larger buses of tourists and holiday travelers, our bus headed back down the hill to the city of Amalfi, a one-time maritime power, which we learn was one of three independent maritime republics on the peninsula, whose prowess as seafarers made that nation a rival of Venice and Pisa. The port city is tucked into a narrow canyon, which made a safe haven for Amalfi’s pirates to retreat from enemy marauders. The Duomo, with its steep marble staircase, beautifully accommodates the restrictions of the topography.

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Farther back in the canyon is a paper museum, which celebrates one of Amalfi’s oldest industries, and details the history of paper making (especially delighting one Penn alumna, a poet and book artist, who found the materials here for a new art work). Afterwards, we boarded a boat that skimmed along the coast back to Maiori, a quicker and more efficient means of transport than the roller-coaster roads.

Discussion of disaster dominated our next day’s tour, through the ruins of ancient Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. In a lecture the evening before, Joe had talked about the typical form of a Roman town, with streets laid out on a grid, a forum with public buildings, temples and civic structures at its center, and gymnasiums, amphitheaters, taverns, and baths as features of daily life. He also talked about the fascination with Vesuvius from before Roman times to the present, showing images and impressions of this still active volcano through the eyes of British Romantic painters and Victorian moralists, who saw in the destruction of Pompeii divine punishment of pagan decadence in the early days of Christianity.

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The group poses for a picture with the Penn Alumni banner.

Mt. Vesuvius was hidden by clouds on this drizzly day,

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or as Enrica liked to say “Vesuvio is shy.” The history of Pompeii and what the excavations reveal about Roman life in the first century were fascinating. Walking on intact Roman roads, poking through the House of Menander, with its painted wall decorations, or the bath complex where we admired the delicate stucco work in the changing rooms, was like traveling back in time. The poignancy of Pompeii comes from the sense of deserted places abandoned in a hurry as the volcano erupted and ash rained down around them.

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With Pompeii as our introduction to ancient Roman life and culture, we departed the next morning to Rome itself. On the way, we stopped at Monte Cassino, where the first Benedictine monastery was established in 529. After being destroyed in Allied bombings in 1944, the monastery was rebuilt immediately after the war to reproduce its original proportions and austere white splendor. Once again, the themes of geology and topography emerged. This hilltop with panoramic views in every direction, and a vista that stretches to the sea, made it the ideal spot for a protected sanctuary in the early Middle Ages. Some 800 years later, that same vantage point made it attractive to the German army as a well defended spot where they could track the Allies for miles from whatever direction they came, and this led to its destruction.

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Later that afternoon, we arrived in Rome, where we settled into our hotel in the Centro Storico (historic center), not far from famous classical and Christian sites, including the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian and the baroque church of Santa Maria della Victoria, home of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s exquisite tableau, “St. Theresa in Ecstasy.” Arrival in Rome was the theme of Joe’s next lecture, which opened with a clip from Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in which rooftop sunbathers in bikinis wave enthusiastically at a statue of Jesus flying over the city in a helicopter, bound for the Vatican.

Over the next three days our group had a chance to wander and explore this dynamic city, still the capital of modern Italy (a country younger than the U.S., as Joe reminded us). Rome may be a living museum, but it is the ongoing, often raucous dialogue between past and present, sublime and ridiculous, monumental and banal that more than anything makes the Eternal City so alive. On “May the Fourth (Be With You),” for instance, we encountered a Tie fighter and a parade of Storm Troopers, right outside the Colosseum.

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Joe and I have lived in Rome and know the city well, so were delighted to be able to recommend our favorite restaurants, to whisk our companions into tiny churches to glimpse hidden masterpieces of painting, sculpture and architecture, to show the outdoor market at Campo dei Fiori, the espresso bars, gelaterie, and other aspects of Roman daily life. These informal walks and unexpected discoveries provided counterpoint to the impressive monuments we visited on informed, guided tours over the next two days — an afternoon gelato is the perfect way to cap an intense morning of walking, thinking, listening and looking in the Colosseum, the Forum, the abundant collections of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our faculty tour leader, Professor Joe Farrell, in St. Peter’s Square.

Our faculty tour leader, Professor Joe Farrell, in St. Peter’s Square.

After three days, we bade Rome farewell and headed north. On the bus, the dense, crowded periphery of the city quickly gave way to rolling countryside and green fields. (The pale green grass growing all along the Tiber Valley, Enrica tells us, is semolina, the grain used to make Italian pasta.) Our next destination, the Etruscan city of Orvieto sits on top of a volcanic plateau, commanding impressive views in every direction; and our hotel in the center of the medieval town offers vistas of roof tiles and stone and brick towers on one side, a green valley on the other. Swallows wheel in the cloud-streaked sky at sunset and church bells ring out every quarter hour.

Our education the first evening is very hands-on: We learn how to make pasta in Ristorante Zeppelin, where volunteers took turns following chef Lorenzo’s directions for rolling and cutting the strands and forming typical shapes like farfalle (bowties).

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The next day, we traveled to Assisi, a small city best know for its two saints, Francis and Clare, whose commitment to the poor, to simple lives dedicated to poverty and charity, revolutionized the church of the twelfth century. The lives and influence of these saints, and the basilicas built in their honor, have made Assisi a pilgrimage site for centuries. While we were drawn, like the pilgrims, to the history, the architecture, and the Giotto frescoes, local residents were preparing for their annual festival, a medieval pageant that pits one end of the town (Sotto, or lower Assisi) with the other (Sopra, upper). We found bleachers filling the main piazza and bright medieval banners lining the streets. For lunch, some of us joined the locals at long tables to eat porchetta sandwiches and drink fresh wine in plastic cups as part of the festivities.

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The land, the soil, the stone, the topography — these were what Joe had taught us to look for. The pearly pink cast of Assisi’s stone building, which give the town an almost ethereal air, derives from from the color of the local stone, while Orvieto is more golden in tone, most of the buildings formed from porous volcanic tufa. The earth also contributes to the local industries. On the way back from Assisi, we visit Deruta, a center for majolica since the early middle ages. We watched the quick, deft hands of a ceramics artist paint a small pitcher in colorful, delicate detail. She is continuing a generations-old tradition of craftsmanship in her family.

Enrica, our tour director, shows off some of the wares in Deruta.

Enrica, our tour director, shows off some of the wares in Deruta.

That night, back in Orvieto, we explore the narrow streets and charming angles and alleys. The magnificent medieval Duomo is startling for its scale and its grace.

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We saw the inside of the twelfth-century Duomo on a guided tour the next day, including chapels with frescoes by Fra Angelico and a troubling cycle of the Last Judgment by Luca Signorelli. The day of our city tour happened to be market day, so we enjoyed browsing among tables overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, including the first of the spring cherries, and trucks devoted to salumi,formaggi, and, pane (cured meats, cheeses, and bread). In the afternoon, we visit the underground caves that tunnel through the porous tufa stone under the city. The Etruscans used these to store wine and olive oil, and as wells. In the middle ages, these hollows were transformed into dovecotes, to lure and breed pigeons in times of famine. Pigeon remains a popular local dish, which some of us sampled that night in a traditional Umbrian restaurant. In more recent history, the caves functioned as bomb shelters during WWII.

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We traveled next to Tuscany and stopped for lunch in the university town of Perugia, perched high on a plateau, dominated by a central pedestrian boulevard lined with outdoor cafes. From one vista, we could look across at Assisi, which from that distance seems pressed precariously into the hillside.

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In the afternoon, we turned off the highway, and Enrica stopped the busdriver so we could look across a field to see from a distance the Villa Lecchi, the magnificent eighteenth-century estate, which was to be our home for the next three days. After a week in towns and cities, the Villa with its view of olive groves and vineyards, felt like a true retreat.

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We left our retreat early the next morning to go to Siena. A few days earlier, Joe had told us about the time he spent on an Etruscan dig not far from Siena, and how that summer when he was just out of college he discovered the pleasures of this medieval city, with its sloping, shell-shaped Campo, the main piazza, its pride in its long history as a republican government, and its traditions, including the famous Palio, a frenetic, no-holds-barred horse race around the Campo, which takes place twice each summer. While we were too early for the Palio, we did get to see a living Sienese tradition in action. That night the L’Oca (Goose) contrada, one of the 17 districts that acts as social and cultural centers, was holding its annual baptism festival. Every baby born in that contrada that year would be baptized in the local fountain. As our local guide led us down the steep streets of L’Oca, green and yellow banners waved from the lampposts. A band played in the distance, and suddenly our group was swept up in a parade, a marching band making its way up one of the narrow streets as the first part of the celebration.

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We left the local festivities to see the impressive main sights, including the magnificent Duomo, with its unique inlaid marble mosaic floors.

That night, back at our Villa Lecchi retreat, we dined out on the terrace, listening to the music from a wedding taking place in the main dining room of the villa, charmed and singing along with the American pop music sung with an Italian accent: “Can you feel the love tonight?” The sunset seemed like it was offered to us as our own personal show; and later, as the night grew dark, fireworks in some distant town across the valley flared up in the sky, a perfect ending to a glorious day and night.

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The next day, Sunday, Florence was packed with visitors. We began our own visit to the birthplace of the Renaissance on the other side of the Arno, where the city spread out before us, dominated by the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral, with its campanile designed by Giotto and topped by Brunelleschi’s impressive dome.

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That day we were especially grateful for our tour guide, who was able to skirt the lines waiting to see Michelangelo’s magnificent David, the epitome, she said, of Renaissance humanism. Later, Enrica took a group into the Uffizi to see other masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Caravaggio’s Bacchus. She also steered those who want to see something off the beaten (tourist) path to a small leather-working shop and museum just behind another Brunelleschi masterpiece, the basilica of Santa Croce.

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The next day took us to a much smaller city, the charming hilltown of San Gimignano, famous for its thirteen bell towers, which rise invitingly out of the Tuscan landscape. San Gimignano’s main church, La Collegiata, features arches painted black and white to mimic the marble stripes of the cathedrals of Siena and Florence. The walls of the church are adorned with an intricate and intriguing fresco cycle from the fourteenth century of scenes from the Old Testament, from the Creation to the story of Job.

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That afternoon, we were treated to an excellent seminar in Tuscan viniculture and wine tasting by a young Italian woman with a Scottish accent in a vineyard just outside of San Gimignano.

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All too soon, it was time to leave Tuscany for our final destination, Venice. After a long day’s drive over and through the Appenine mountains, stopping to experience the Italian version of truck stop dining, we entered a dramatically different landscape, the broad flat plain of the Po Valley. In the distance, the pre-Alps and Dolomites, still snow-capped, formed a dramatic backdrop.

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After crossing a long causeway, we boarded water taxis to reach our hotel near the famous Grand Canal. Then, on an evening walk, we learned how to navigate the twisting streets of Venice on foot, passing the Rialto Bridge and ending up in Piazza San Marco. Later the same evening, a small group went to hear the music of one of Venice’s most famous native sons, Antonio Vivaldi, performed in the Baroque church of  San Vidal. The familiar “Four Seasons” suite was played, on original instruments, more briskly and exuberantly than most of us had ever heard it. The evening’s magic was capped by a ride back to the hotel on a vaporetto, Venice’s public transport, under a full moon.

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In the morning we rode again in boats down to the Piazza San Marco for a walking tour of Venice’s characteristic neighborhoods, and then gathered that night for a farewell meal. To cap the evening, one of the participants read an entertaining and heartfelt homage to Enrica. We laughed– and were moved to tears.

Italy, as we had been told and could see from the beginning, is an assemblage of geographies, topographies, cultures and traditions; and our “Portrait of Italy” was more a collage or a mosaic than a smooth, idealized painting by Raphael or Titian. What we saw in fourteen days was the rich variety that Italy has to offer. We stayed in a seaside hotel, in the fast-beating heart of Rome, in a charming medieval hill town, in an eighteenth-century villa in the Tuscan countryside, and finally in a modern hotel on a Venetian canal. Along the way we saw some of Italy’s most significant sites and monuments: Pompeii, the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Uffizi in Florence and Venice’s incomparable San Marco Square. We admired sacred spaces, some of them very spare, like the church of Santa Chiara in Assisi, and some elaborate and immense, like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We rode boats along the Amalfi Coast and in Venice, and we burrowed under the tufa grottos in Orvieto. We learned about the long continuity of cultural traditions, not just by listening to guides and looking at the sites, but by making pasta with our own hands, watching majolica being made, or holding up a wine goblet to note the straw color and clarity of a young vernaccia. What lasts in retrospect are the smaller moments, the unplanned surprises: teenagers hammering together props for their pageant floats in Assisi, a seafood dinner in Rome where the proprietor politely listened to our orders, and then basically ignored them, taking charge and offering us the specialties of the house, a hot air balloon floating over the Tuscan countryside. My last image comes from the very last night, as we walked back from our jovial farewell dinner across a small bridge to our hotel. In one direction the sun was setting behind the distant snow-capped mountains.

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In the other was the moon, poking through clouds in an indigo sky.

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[Inspired to journey to Italy with Penn Alumni Travel? We will return to the peninsula with a second Portrait of Italy tour next October 2015 with faculty host Professor Campbell Grey. Click here for more information. We will also explore Southern Italy and Sicily in May 2015 with Professor Thomas Max Safley. Click here for more information.]

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Penn Alumni Travel: Adriatic Antiquities 2014

Author: Professor Ralph Rosen, Department of Classical Studies

We began our Adriatic Antiquities adventure (a Penn Alumni Travel trip) in Venice, where we boarded our ship, the Aegean Odyssey. The ship was relatively small, accommodating only some 350 passengers, and delightfully appointed with two restaurants, several bars and many decks offering spectacular views from all perspectives. We had a small group of 8 adventurous Penn alums plus my wife, Ellen, and about 60 others in our tour group from various other alumni organizations across the country. Other passengers on the ship included a huge group from Australia and Great Britain, which added to the continual liveliness and good cheer of the trip. Almost every day there was a lecture of one sort of another to attend, since the ship had two art historians of their own onboard, and there were two Classicists in our group—myself, and a specialist in ancient Greek politics and Athenian history from Northwestern University. I gave two lectures early in the trip on various aspects of Greek culture, the first on Greek concepts of beauty and ugliness, the second on traditions of early Greek scandalous poetry or satire. I had also sent everyone in our group a copy of Aristophanes’ Clouds in advance of the trip to provide some background to our visit to Athens, and we met one afternoon during cocktail hour in the ship’s lounge to discuss it. This fast-paced comedy addresses the ‘culture wars’ of Classical Athens, pitting traditionalists against a new generation of thinkers and educators, and inspired a lively and memorable discussion.

On our first day we took a vaporetto to mainland Venice to visit the Cathedral of St. Mark. We had a superb guide who walked us through the complex and fascinating history of this amazing structure. The Cathedral dates to the 9th century CE, though the current building can be traced to the 11th. The interior walls and ceilings are covered with gold mosaics of dazzling beauty, telling various stories from the Old and New Testaments, and about the saints important to the Cathedral, such as Sts. Mark and Clement. We learned that much of these were poorly ‘restored’ in the 19th century, and are thought to have suffered much as a result; but to the viewer from ground-level, these mosaics are simply breathtaking.


That evening we were treated to a very special private visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. This museum, located in what was once Guggenheim’s private home along the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, houses an extraordinary collection of modernist, surrealist and abstract expressionist artists. We rode back to the ship in small boats along the canal in the early evening as the golden Venetian sun made the Renaissance buildings on the land magically glow.


From Venice we sailed directly across the Adriatic over night to our first destination in Croatia, Zadar, in the northern region of the Dalmatian coast. The early history of this entire area is one of continual tension between indigenous inhabitants and incursions from Greeks with an eye on colonization. When Rome became the dominant power in the Mediterranean in subsequent centuries, one finds archaeological traces of their settlements and Romanization as well. By the middle ages, the influence of Venice was ubiquitous among the cities along the Dalmatian coast, and we learned much about these many historical layers from our expert guides.

After Zadar, we made our way down the coast to the Croatian cities of Split, Dubrovnik and the gorgeous peninsula of Korcula. We sailed to Split during the night, and we awoke in the port as an intense thunderstorm was just beginning to break up, offering beautiful dark-grey cloudscapes interspersed with sunlight and blue skies.


Our day in Split began with a visit to the palace of Diocletian, who built this massive complex as his retirement home in 305 CE. Diocletian was emperor of Rome from 284-305 CE, which was a particularly colorful and complicated political period. Diocletian had first appointed a co-emperor Maximian in 286, but for strategic reasons appointed two more co-regents in 293, Galerius and Constantius, dividing up the empire into four different sectors. This historical period became known as the ‘tetrarchy’ or ‘rule of the four emperors.’ Quite unusually, Diocletian actually abdicated his rule and then retired to the lavish palace complex which he had built for himself in Split. From the 7th century CE on, long after it had been abandoned by the Romans, locals moved into the structures, setting up homes and businesses. Domitian’s mausoleum, for example, was transformed into the Cathedral of St. Duje (Domnius) built over an ancient shrine. Built at the beginning of the 7th century, we were told that it’s the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world which hasn’t had to be completely rebuilt. The site reflects today all these many historical layers of use, re-use, re-purposing, occupation and now, tourism. Side trips in the afternoon brought us inland to two other Roman sites, Salona and Trogir. In Salona we visited a Roman burial site, where we saw some wonderfully preserved Roman sarcophagi, along with tombs and mausolea from later periods as well. Trogir was a modest little town, founded as a Greek colony in the 3rd century BCE, now rich in medieval and Byzantine architectural sites; we had time to visit the unusual and impressively well-preserved Romanesque-Gothic church dedicated to St. Lawrence (13th century.). I have to confess that simply sitting in the public square of this utterly charming town late in the afternoon with an espresso and biscotto was one of my favorite moments of the trip!


Korcula was a magical place—we had to approach from the ship in small boats across shimmering blue-green water. At the coastline the water was crystal-clear and you could watch schools of fish from the docks going about their business. The Old Town was built in a fishbone pattern to maximize the flow of winds, thus creating a kind of urban air-conditioning—or so we were told by our genial guide. She also told us of the dispute about Marco Polo. Despite the fact that the handbooks all list his birthplace as Venice, Korcula claims him as one of their native sons. Whether or not this is true, every other street restaurant and guest-house in Korcula is named ‘Marco Polo’-something-or-other.


Our next stop was Dubrovnik, said to be one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in Europe. It had a touristic feel about it, but we still enjoyed its antiquities, particularly the Dominican monastery with its 15th-century cloister and the Cathedral of Our Lady, which has on display a painting of the Assumption by Titian.

We continued our journey down the Dalmatian coast heading for Greece, but along the way the ship’s captain made a detour to take us into the famous Bay of Kotor, a fjord-like inlet in SW Montenegro, situated between Croatia and Albania. The sea was calm and the sun shining brightly as we sailed around this breathtakingly beautiful part of the Adriatic.

Kotor Bay


The antiquities we visited along the Croatian coast were largely Roman remains and later, though most of the sites had been settled earlier by Greek colonists. The remaining sites on our trip were in Greece proper, and often reflected Mediterranean culture from even earlier historical periods. Most of our guides, however, were extremely knowledgeable about modern Greek history as well, and we learned much from them about the long and fraught occupation of Greece by the Ottomans, and eventual emancipation and independence in the 19th century.

Our first visit on Greek soil was the island of Corfu, also known by its Greek name Kerkyra, and to students of Thucydides, Corcyra (Thucydides famously documented the effects of factional strife there in the 5th century. BCE). We toured the Venetian fortifications, which afforded some amazing views along the coast, but more charming was the town itself—a bustling place inhabited by real people living real lives and not only for tourists. A few of us explored the old city in the afternoon, and even stumbled upon the Corfu Synagogue, where we met a caretaker who was happy to show us around. Their traditions (and building) go back at least 400 years, though the community is small, and reduced even more as a consequence of WWII.

Corfu Synagogue


Not too far from Corfu is a small port called Preveza, where we docked for the morning and took an inland excursion to the town of Arta.  The visit to Arta was spectacular. The famous ‘Bridge of Arta’ crossing the Arachthos River dates from the early 17th century,  but its foundations date to the Roman period.

Arta Bridge

According to local legend, a bird came to the original architect and declared that the bridge could only be completed if the architect would sacrifice his wife. While she was being buried alive, it is said, she put a curse on the bridge, but when told that her brother would be crossing the bridge she changed her curses to blessings. Near the bridge is the amazing cathedral Church of the Paregoretissa, built at the end of the 13th century. This is a beautifully preserved and well maintained example of grand Byzantine architecture, with spectacular mosaics decorating the interior. The central dome has a magnificent mosaic of Christ Pantokrator with angels and prophets, and interior walls are graced with grand religious frescoes from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Arta Church


From Preveza, we sailed down the western coast of the Peloponnese to Olympia, famed birthplace of the Olympic games. The Greeks have done a superb job with this site, creating a beautiful archaeological park with elegant landscaping, excellent signage and an inviting, informative museum of artifacts from their excavations. Olympia was internationally important from the 8th century BCE well into late antiquity, by which time it had fallen into Roman hands, but by the 6th century CE it was covered over by alluvial deposits, evidently the result of flooding from repeated tsunamis. It wasn’t re-discovered until 1766, and the first excavations only began in 1829. The site itself indicates an expansive array of buildings within a sanctuary, including temples to Zeus and Hera, and adjacent to this area are a hippodrome for horse and chariot racing and stadium for track events.


Overnight we sailed from Olympia to the famous port city of Nafplio. This was a particularly busy day for our group, with two trips scheduled (the afternoon trip was optional, but we couldn’t get enough!). In the morning we made our way by bus to the famous site of Mycenae. What I found particularly interesting about this site was how remote and wild the area seemed to be today in light of the fact that during the heydey of Mycenaean culture, in the 14th century BCE, it was a major cultural center with a sizable population. The monumentality of this site was astonishing—huge ‘Cyclopean’ stone blocks, grand archways, brilliant gold masks and large intricately patterned pottery. This was clearly a rich and sophisticated society that left a huge mark on subsequent Greek culture.


After a restorative lunch in the town square of Nafplio, we set out again for Epidaurus, an area that rose to prominence in the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek history. Epidaurus has two main sites of interest, both iconic of ancient Greek culture. The first is the great temple of the healing god Asclepius. There were many healing shrines to Asclepius around the Mediterranean, but Epidaurus’ was one of the largest and most famous. People with a variety of afflictions would come from all around seeking a cure, and an entire micro-economy seems to have emerged around such sites. There was a whole industry of priests, shopkeepers selling terracotta votive offerings (usually representing whatever organ or body part needed healing), guest-houses, etc. The idea was for the sick person to spend the night sleeping inside the temple (for a fee, of course), so that the god Asclepius could appear in a dream and offer instructions on how to be healed. This process was called ‘incubation’, which literally means ‘sleeping in’. Many of the stories of these cures have come down to us on stone inscriptions publicly erected by grateful patients or publicity-minded temple administrators. These narratives often seem a little far-fetched to us today, but evidently there were many satisfied customers!

Epidaurus is also famous for its amazing theater, where Greek tragedies and comedies (and other dramatic forms) would have been performed. The remains of this theater date from the Hellenistic period; it’s one of the best preserved and most beautiful examples of theater construction. The theater could hold some 13,000 spectators in the classic Greek semi-circular form, with rows of seats rising steeply into a hill. The acoustics are uncannily live, as is continually being demonstrated by visitors who clap their hands or orate in the circular orchestra where the actors would have performed. In this theater there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house!



Our last destination was, at long last, the glorious city of Athens itself. We pulled into the harbor at Piraeus in the morning, around 10 km from the city, and wasted no time in preparing ourselves for the trek to the Acropolis and its Parthenon—perhaps the single most iconic building in all of Western culture. It was hot and crowded with tourists, but we all made it to the top of the hill and stood in awe of the Parthenon and the spectacular panoramic views of the entire city. I think this was an emotional moment for all of us, and our expert guide added plenty of detail to complement our feelings of transcendence—its origins in fifth century BCE Athens as part of Pericles’ building program, its Hellenistic history, its fate under the Romans, its later re-purposing by Christians, and later still by Ottoman Muslims.


We left in a state of exhilaration, and relocated for our last two nights in a hotel in the center of the city. Our afternoon was unscheduled, so we all went in different directions. I made my way to the National Archaeological museum, where I met one of the other Penn alums, and we spent a wonderful afternoon exploring their incredible collection. There was room after room of all the choice artifacts from all periods of Greek history; I was quite overwhelmed, really, by the richness of this collection—rooms of archaic kouroi, huge Geometric-style vases, Cycladic art, and hundreds of black-figure and red-figure Athenian pottery, just to name a few of the highlights.

Our final morning was spent at the new Acropolis Museum, adjacent to the Acropolis itself, but at ground level looking up. The building only opened in 2009 after years of planning and false starts, but is now a marvel of architecture and city planning. Designed by renowned architect Bernard Tschumi, the museum houses all the artifacts found on the Acropolis, and itself sits on top of another archaeological site of Classical and Byzantine urban remains. Glass flooring at the entrance allows visual access to the excavations below and juxtaposes brilliantly the artifact and modern repository of artifacts. The top part of the museum is in parallel alignment to the Acropolis, affording the viewer both a window on, and a kind of mirror to, the object of its contemplation up the hill. This was an expansive, uncluttered and intelligently laid out museum, and a powerful testament to the aesthetic and political sophistication of Greek culture.

Our trip was unfortunately nearing its end, but we had time for one more excursion that afternoon, to the Benaki Museum, which was only a short walk from our hotel. The Benaki Museum might be considered Athens’ answer to Philadelphia’s Barnes Museum in that it houses the private collection of art and antiquities from a single collector with an idiosyncratic vision, that of Antonis Benakis. This elegant private mansion contains an extraordinary and eclectic collection of mostly Greek art, from antiquity to the 20th century. Since Benakis’ death in 1954 the museum has continued to add to its collection (unlike the Barnes), which now has more than 37,000 objects. After almost two weeks of continual exposure to ancient artifacts, I think most of us found it refreshing to see a deep collection of fine and decorative arts from the 18th through 20th centuries. They have an especially fine collection of cultural artifacts from the period of Greek independence (1821-1835). Among these is a marvelous portrait of the great English poet, Lord Byron, in traditional Greek dress, who was so committed to the cause of Greek independence that he even took command of a rebel army against the Turks in 1824. Unfortunately, he died of an infectious disease before the actual attack, but his inspirational passion for everything Greek made him something of a national hero after his death.

Benaki-Lord Byron

After a final gathering in the evening at the hotel to celebrate our rich and glorious trip together, and to say our sad goodbyes, we prepared ourselves for the return home. We packed an incredible amount of travel and learning into these two weeks, but I’m pretty sure everyone in our group was secretly wishing it would never end.

Professor Ralph Rosen with his group of Penn alumni and friends.

Professor Ralph Rosen with his group of Penn alumni and friends.

[Interested in joining a future Penn Alumni Travel trip hosted by a Penn faculty member? Click here to view our entire 2015 schedule. We will be returning to Greece and Italy on the following tours: Southern Italy and Sicily (April/May 2015), Ancient Greece and Turkey (Sept/October 2015), and Portrait of Italy (October 2015).]

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Ancient Rome and Instagram in Los Angeles

By Kiera Reilly, C’93  @KieraReilly

Last month, members of the Southern California Regional Advisory Board (otherwise known as SCRAB) gathered to hear my classmate, Darius Arya, Ph.D., C’93, speak about storytelling cultural heritage through modern means, namely via social media tools such as Instagram and Twitter. Dar lives in Rome and is the CEO and co-founder of the American Institute for Roman Culture.

After re-connecting with him and his wife Erica Firpo, C’94, while in Rome this past May, I’ve been following them both as they share local scenes via Twitter and Instagram (Erica via @moscerina and Dar via @SaveRome). When I heard Dar would be in Los Angeles in November, I asked if he would speak to SCRAB about his work, and he graciously agreed.

An example of Dar's Instagram from a few weeks ago with this caption: The curve. Romans perfected the arch. Here, in Trajan's Markets they turned it on its side (and lined it with shops) to hold back the Quirinal Hill #culturalheritage #rome #archaeology

An example of Dar’s Instagram from a few weeks ago with this caption: The curve. Romans perfected the arch. Here, in Trajan’s Markets they turned it on its side (and lined it with shops) to hold back the Quirinal Hill #culturalheritage #rome #archaeology

The group gathered at Culina – a modern Italian restaurant at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. Everyone sipped Prosecco and munched on bruschetta while waiting for everyone to arrive. We then sat down for a family-style dinner while Dar spoke about utilizing digital media to engage a global audience and tell stories about cultural heritage.

DSCN1344 Denise Winner-Roz Pinkus

SCRAB co-president Denise Winner, W’83, and Roz Pinkus, CW’64, PAR’94, GPAR’17

Marty Caan, W'69, PAR'11, and Jack Tauber, C'73, PAR'08

Marty Caan, W’69, PAR’11, and Jack Tauber, C’73, PAR’08

DSCN1351 Rob Weingarten-Salvador Brau-Pam Weingarten-Nora Brau

Bob Weingarten, C’74, PAR’12, Salvador Brau, C’67, Pam Weingarten, PAR’12, and Nora Brau,.

DSCN1350 Eric Reiter-Darius Arya-Jackie Bral

Eric Reiter, W’97, our speaker Darius Arya, C’93, and Jackie Bral, PAR’15, PAR’15


Our elegant family-style dinner table at Culina.

It was an interesting lesson to hear how modern tools can reach a vast global audience and help share the stories of ancient roman culture, and hopefully help to further preserve these ancient sites.

My Instagram from the event @KieraReilly

My Instagram from the event @KieraReilly

For more on ancient Rome, follow Dar’s informative posts on his Instagram account @SaveRome.

For more information on the American Institute for Roman Culture, see their website at: http://romanculture.org/. You may also see Dar as he appears frequently in History, Discovery, and National Geographic documentaries and pursues projects relating to cultural heritage management, preservation, promotion, outreach, and communications.

SaveRome Rome in Snow

Dar’s Instagram from Dec. 12: Winter blues. Getting jealous of all the great winter shots I’ve been seeing on IG. Sure Rome has its Christmas atmosphere: trees, nativity scenes, light, fair in Piazza Navona, smell of roasted chestnuts are on the air, and the Lungotevere sycamore trees are becoming bare… But we really just have two district seasons: wet and dry– no snow… With some exceptions. Almost two years ago snow fell in Rome for the first time in over 20 years. So I cheer up with memories from that magical moment. #latergram #culturalheritage #rome #archaeology

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Penn Alumni Travel: Apulia

 Author: Anita L. Allen, Vice Provost for Faculty and Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law

The first thing you learn when you arrive in Apulia, is that the region occupying the heel of the boot of Italy is called “Puglia” by the Italians.  Until recently, it was difficult to get to Puglia from major cities outside of Italy. Today the “undiscovered” region is well-served by two modern airports. The Penn Alumni Travel group for which I served as a faculty host, September 17-26, 2013, arrived at one of them, Bari Airport. Along with an affable alumni group from Brown University who would be our travel companions for the week, we boarded a comfortable motor coach.  The 45 minute trip to our hotel in Polignano a Mare was narrated by AHI Travel’s campus host Mick and a local guide, Daniella.  Mick, a British expatriate, was in charge of logistics.  Daniella, a vivacious licensed guide and native of Pulgia, won us over with her detailed knowledge of history  and culture, peppered with the wit and wisdom of her  nona, her grandmother.


Hotel Covi dei Saraceni in Polignano a Mare was dramatically situated atop a bluff overlooking the turquoise and cobalt sea. From the private balcony off my antique-filled room I had a clear view the statue of Polignano a Mare’s native son Dominico Mugdana, famous for the upbeat ballard Americans my age know as “Volare.” Every so often someone would arrive at the statue, snap a few photos and then and break out in song.


To enjoy Polignano a Mare in September, one mostly strolls the streets of the medieval heart of the town for the unique scenery—elaborate flower boxes, stunning views of the sea, weathered doorways and modest churches.  Several ristorante occupy caves built into the bluffs.  But there is amore  traditionally sited osteria, trattoria, gelato stand and cafe on virtually every block.   The streets were not crowded and neither were the town’s several gift shops.   Many of us shopped and ate only, but some of the hardy Penn alums descended to the beach and swam in the chilly ocean every day.

Our first big outing was to central Bari.   Bari is a gorgeous city with an  air of affluence.  An impressive castle, a city gate, and winding streets impress. A personal highlight for me  was  watching ordinary people sitting in their doorways  making pasta by hand and drying it in the open air on large mesh trays.  The women of Bari are known for their version of the Puglian speciality, pasta orriechete, “little ears”. I tested out my dusty Italian on the pasta makers.


My basic skills served me very well in Bari and throughout Puglia, where fewer people speak fluent English than in Milan or Rome.   The linguistic diversity of Puglia contributes to its authenticity and reflects its history as a meeting point of Middle Eastern, African and western civilizations.  Many dialects and languages are spoken in Puglia.  Some communities even speak a form of Greek.  The pasta makers were warm and welcoming, as were the fruit vendors, who invited our Penn Alumni group to sample freely from their stands in a universal language of big smiles and even bigger gestures.

We visited The Basilica di San Niccola in Bari at an opportune time. Dozens of Russian pilgrims, women  in brightly colored modesty attire, packed into the crypt where which the relics of Saint Nicholas are interred. Lovely chanting and song celebrated the Saint.   Daniella sat us down in the main nave to tell us about the design of the church and the  complex story of Saint Nick,  a generous cleric whose bones were brought to Italy for safe-keeping.

Southern Italy produces delicious table wines.  One of our best days began with a tour of Castel del    Monte and ended with a trip to a family winery.  From the famous, centuries-old castle we enjoyed panoramic views of a hilly national park planted with evergreen trees.

It was in the octagonal courtyard of this castle that the Penn Alums paused for a group photograph.


We left the castle grounds for a nearby vineyard and a wine tasting.  Then, at the vineyard, the proprietor first took us on a tour of his thoroughly modern wine production room  and fields where we  tasted  delicious cabernet sauvignon  grapes straight from the vine.  They were dark, small, seeded and warmed by the sun.  On a shaded porch we were treated to a lunch and wine.

On a trip to Puglia, Daniella insisted, the dish that combines mussels, potato and rice is a must taste and the town of  Lecce is a must see.  Lecce is sometimes called the Florence of southern Italy.    The comparison is not especially apt.  Lecce centro is sunny, uncongested and unpretentious. Its ornately carved stone religious and secular architecture is the handiwork of locals without world reputations.


And there is nothing akin to the Uffizi in Lecce.  Daniella urged us to appreciate Lecce on its own terms:  consider that artisans cut off from cosmopolitan northern Italy without marble or  money, hand-carved Baroque, Gothic and Byzantine style  ornamentation from local materials to  create their own masterpieces for their own  communities of fisherman, farmers and merchants.


After soaking up Lecce’s architecture and its Roman ruins I took a few minutes to shop for souvenirs.  I was delighted to discover that tarantism, the subject of one of the two special lectures I had prepared for the trip to Puglia, was manifest in Lecce in the form of spiders on tee-shirts and spider-embellished  tambourines.  Tarantism began as a tradition of poor men and women farm workers claiming to have been bitten by  spiders developing  psychological and neurological-like illnesses treated by pizzica music,  manic dance and the intercession St. Paul.  Of course, I was relieved to find no souvenirs registering the reality of the topic of my other lecture: the pollution, cancer  and labor problems plaguing  the town of Taranta attributed to the Ilva steel plant.

The unique towns of Alberobello and Ostuni were both on the agenda for our penultimate day of group travel.  Both towns are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and deservedly so.  Alberobello is famous for its Trulli houses .




The Truli neighborhoods of whitewashed rounded houses with tall domed grey slate roofs, look like  something from a fairy tale. Cruder, haphazard versions of Trulli dot the landscape of Puglia north to south in large numbers. But it is only in Alberobello that one finds the well-kept Trulli as the dominate style of domestic architecture.  We took some time before leaving Alberobello to visit the lace makers for which the town is also famous


Ostuni is an ancient town with roots in the stone ages built inside and atop sandstones caves, some natural, some carved by hand. For centuries families and their farm animals—goats, mules and chickens– lived inside these cave homes.  After the Christian era, dozens of churches were also built into the rock.    In the 1950s the Italian government found it necessary for public health reasons to relocated the families of Ostuni to  new  housing  on the outskirts of town.  Today, the cave dwellings can be leased from the government for homes and commercial purposes under strict conditions that require a balance of modernization (such as toilets and running water) and historic preservation.  Numerous bed and breakfasts have popped up in the town, and tourism is on the rise. We visited a typical larger Ostuni  family home, now a small  museum of an earlier era.  It consisted of two sleeping areas, a kitchen and two cellars for storing  tools and food.   We also visited four churches that that been converted into wine presses,  vestiges of Byznantine era religious frescos  faintly visible on a few walls.

Our final day of group travel began with a visit to the town of Trani. Once, a wealthy shipping portal to the Adriatic,  today the town  can be enjoyed for its manicured, tree-lined  seaside park;  for views of  a commanding castle repurposed as prison and now a fine arts center;  and  for an active Roman Catholic Cathedral where pilgrims and  Crusaders once rested.  Law alumni in our group took special note of Trani’s role in the development of European maritime law and of the contemporary Italian Court of Appeals which shares a piazza with the main Cathedral.  An historic Jewish Quarter of beautiful winding streets and a vacated synagogue led us to pause for serious reflection.   Control over cultural properties from the Quarter are still a subject of active debate between Trani authorities and Jews now living in the nearby  town of  Barletta.

As we walked along a pier we stopped to chat with fisherman  selling unusual  fishes and  octopuses   to homemakers. We were startled to see how a baby octopus is prepared for market. The live creature was  flung repeatedly  against the bottom on the boat to kill and tenderize it,  then spun in a plastic tub of cold water to curl the tentacles into the shape preferred by local cooks.



Back on the motor coach we traveled only fifteen minutes from Trani to the small town of Bisceglie. There we were treated to a cold-pressed extra virgin oil tasting and a four-course al fresco lunch of regional specialities and rose wine.  Our host was the upscale oil mill “Galantino.” founded in 1926.  After a short video on the history of the Galantino mill in a cheerful subterranean cellar, our guide Massimo escorted us around to see how the mill’s completely natural prize-winning olive oils are produced.  We saw the weigh stations where each October to December truckloads of olives, black and green, shaken from ten thousand trees, are brought in from designated local groves for processing using age-old granite stone grinding techniques with a few high-tech flourishes to ensure hygiene and environmental integrity.  The gorgeous shaded patio under which we dined on dishes that included a fava bean and chicory paste and orriechete pasta, was surrounded by peach trees, grape vines and figs trees. The fruits of these plantings became our dessert along with fresh black cherry tarts, made from olive oil pastry (no butter!) and local cherries.

We were tired and sated when we returned to our hotel. But I headed out to attend an evening  mass celebrating  what happened to be the Feast Day of Padre  Pio, a sainted Capuchin friar associated with the Puglian town of Foggia.  Sickly all his life, Pio serves as the patron saint of people with seasonal depression and stress.  Pio is believed by the faithful to have received heavenly visions and the stigmata.  I enjoyed a moving worship service and was swept into a crowd as I emerged from the  chiesa.  About two hundred were there to process through the streets of Polignano , in the company of a  life-size statue of San Pio ornamented with sun flowers and electric lights. A brass band, a group of strong men bearing an enormous wooden  cross, and priests and young women carrying crucifixes on narrow poles were also part of the sacred parade. On the way back from the procession I ran into others from my  group and we wound up in a trattoria lingering over pizza con melanzana , branzio and insalta verde.

The last day of our journey to undiscovered Italy was totally free after a morning lecture on modern Italy. That evening we joined together for a final group dinner in the hotel to say our good byes and thank our most excellent hosts and guides.

[Interested in joining a Penn Alumni Travel trip? Check out our entire 2014 schedule here. Perhaps we’ll see you in Tuscany next October!]

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Penn Alumni Travel: Italian Inspirations

Author: Professor Michael Gamer, Penn Department of English

All roads may lead to Rome, but ours this spring instead took that ancient city as our starting point — perhaps because the Penn Alumni Travel Italian Inspirations tour went not by land but by sea. After an overnight stay amidst Romans celebrating independence day (the Festa della Liberazione), we took the train to Civitavecchia and boarded the Riviera, operated by Oceania cruise lines. This was no Carnival Cruise. The Riviera was medium-sized and elegant, its passengers primarily alumni groups like our own.

photo 4

Of the twenty-two schools represented on the cruise, only Penn and UCLA sent host professors, which made our groups (at times) objects of envy — at least so my co-travelers were kind enough to tell me ;-). Joking aside, I will say that, as a lecturer, I have never spoken to such large groups before. The ship’s main auditorium seated six to seven hundred people, and while speaking about the Grand Tour and its history I found fewer empty seats than I anticipated.

Indeed, in our way we were doing our own Grand Tour. Although at a much faster pace (seven days instead of seven or even seventeen months) and taking a somewhat different route from those taken by travelers 200-400 years ago. Rather than beginning in Milan and heading south before circling back to Venice, our tour engaged in something closer to Lord Byron’s travels of 1809-10, when all of Europe was either at war or under the dominion of Napoleon Bonaparte. Byron, therefore, was forced to do most of his traveling by sea, hopping around the Mediterranean from port to port, gathering antiquities and swimming whenever possible. He was engaging in a time-honored tradition by doing so; since the ancient Phoenicians, the Mediterranean has been southern Europe’s freeway, traveling by sea always an easier proposition than traveling by land.

In our case, we headed from Rome south to Sorrento, where some of us saw Mount Vesuvius and others Pompeii before sampling the local limoncello and watching the sun set over Capri. By the time we awakened the next morning, we were nearing Taormina on the island of Sicily, home of that other great Italian volcano, Mount Etna, pictured here in the background of Taormina’s beautiful amphitheater:

photo 5

Some of you reading this post will have traveled by cruise ship before. I had not — and there is something magical about waking up to find yourself in a new place. In our case, days three and four found us arrived at the islands of Zakynthos and Corfu, respectively, followed in the course of the week by the stunning cities of Dubrovnik and Venice, where we disembarked for good. Though I have traveled many times in Italy, these Greek and Croatian stops were entirely new to me, and a real pleasure. They possess a color palate unlike Italy, something at once stripped down and sparkling. There is something at once stark and beautiful about the coastline and buildings, the contrast of blue water next to white cliffs and houses.

Zakynthos 1

Zakynthos 2

Of course, nothing quite ever can prepare you for Venice, whether you’ve been there a hundred times or never. After six days of superb touring, that final day we all scattered to wander this wonderful city on our own. Some of us to San Marco; others to the Accademia, the Guggenheim, and other museums; and still others just wandering the narrow calle, trying to get lost. And, so far as I know, none of us quite felt moved enough to copy Byron’s exploit of swimming through the canals.


I will confess, though, that for me all roads did end up leading back to Rome: after saying goodbye to my fellow Penn Alumni Travelers I spent a few days there, soaking up the sun, revisiting old sites and taking in new ones. I can hardly wait to return in October 2014 — this time touring overland with the Flavors of Tuscany tour in October 2014. Hope to see you there!

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Explore the World at Home

Author: Emilie Kretschmar

Penn Alumni Travel is now offering travel webinars on specific countries and destinations across the world. This winter and spring, you can learn about Morocco, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy from the comfort of your own home. Each webinar is hosted by a Penn professor who is also leading one of our 2013 educational tours. This is a great opportunity for past, present, and future Penn alumni travelers to learn about some of our beautiful destinations.

We began our travel series last month with a discussion about the varied landscapes of Morocco (if you missed it, don’t worry! You can still catch a recording here). Professor Tom Safley of Penn’s history department presented an overview of the history, culture, and topography of this Northern African country. Each webinar is followed by a  Q&A session so, when you join us for our next travel webinar, bring your questions. Professor Safley and 25 lucky Penn alumni left for Morocco on Saturday and are due to return next week. Look for a blog about their adventures later this month.

You haven't missed the boat yet. We have a second departure to Morocco in November. Visit our travel website for more details.

You haven’t missed the boat yet. We have a second departure to Morocco in November. Visit our travel website for more details.

Next month, we will be offering two more travel webinars: Perspectives on Holland and Belgium and Perspectives on Italy. Professor Simon Richter of Penn’s Germanic Literatures and Languages department will discuss Holland and Belgium on March 13at noon (EST). You can register for this free webinar here. Professor Michael Gamer of the English department will discuss Italy on March 11at noon. (EST). To register for this free webinar, click here.

Dutch Windmills

Dutch Windmills

View of Venice

View of Venice

We will be adding additional travel webinars to our lineup this spring, so check our website often to take advantage of this free opportunity, or sign-up for our travel e-newsletter here.

This webinar series is but one of the many lifelong learning opportunities we offer to Penn alumni. Visit our Penn Alumni Education website for more information about events (on campus, online, and regionally) and classes. In particular, you can register for one of our Office Hours webinars where one of Penn’s dynamic faculty members presents a live and interactive discussion on a relevant topic. Join us, and continue to learn and explore with your Penn Alumni community.

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Penn Alumni Travel goes to the Italian Lake District

By Kiera R.

In June, Penn Alumni Travel is once again offering a trip to the Italian Lake District. Travelers will stay in Chernobbio, a short boat ride away from the town of Lake Como (known for its movie-star resident George Clooney). While we can’t guarantee bumping into Mr. Clooney in town, we can promise a wonderful stay in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

I traveled with a Penn group on this program in 2007 and was recently reminiscing about Lake Como with someone else who traveled there. We were both encouraging our dinner companion to visit.

Here’s why:

There’s water











Surrounded by mountains

The setting itself is breathtaking. It’s calming, it’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, it’s beautiful.

The town of Lake Como is small and charming – lots of people are walking around the streets, visiting the market, eating at outdoor cafes.

I always enjoy spotting Fiats – this is an old model sandwiched between more modern cars.

One day there was an excursion to Milan. We visited da Vinci’s “Last Supper” which was truly amazing, and I climbed up to the roof of the Duomo to get up close views of the statues on the roof and a wonderful view of the city.

We visited beautiful homes and gardens.

Villa del Balbianello was used as a backdrop for some scenes from Star Wars Episode II and Casino Royale.

And we visited Bellagio, charming with steep streets and expensive shops.

I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful food we had – risotto is a regional specialty and my daily habit of cappuccino and gelato was hard to break!

Our group thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and I encourage you to join us there next June!

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