By Sarah Warrick, history and politics double major
In January of 2011, I had the pleasure of spending two weeks traveling throughout Italy and Greece with several colleagues from the Converse community. When I chose to go on the trip, I knew the experience would be unlike anything I had ever experienced, but I can honestly say that choosing to travel during my time at Converse is the best thing I have ever done for myself. Dr. Monica McCoy and Coach Margaret Moore organized the trip, which offered academic credit in various fields of study. I chose to earn psychology credit. The wonderful thing about study travel is the opportunity to have the experience of a lifetime overseas and earn academic credit simultaneously!
Our group flew into Rome, Italy on a Sunday morning. As soon as we stepped out of the airport and onto the streets of Rome with our tour director, Gloria, I knew we were in for an adventure. Although I had been unable to sleep on the nine-hour flight into Europe and exhaustion had begun to overcome me, an adrenaline rush kicked in the minute I saw the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome. The historic architecture throughout the city, which made me feel as though I had stepped back in time, mixed beautifully with the modern hustle and bustle of a typical city. My favorite day in Rome involved visits to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Vatican City. Talk about a lot to absorb in one day! The Colosseum was as impressive as I had imagined, and then some. It is amazing how small one can feel in the presence of something so remarkable. What impressed me even more than the Colosseum, however, was Vatican City. While I was only able to skim the surface of the Vatican Museum during my visit, I was able to stand inside the Sistine Chapel and admire the work of Michelangelo. Even more impressive than the Sistine Chapel was Saint Peter’s Basilica. Although I am not Catholic, Saint Peter’s Basilica touched me spiritually in ways I will never forget. I believe Michelangelo’s “Pieta” caused me to take a moment and really evaluate the artwork before me. I do believe that my visit to Vatican City changed my outlook on many things and broadened my spirituality.
On our third day in Italy, we took the high-speed rail t
rain to Florence, Italy, located in the Tuscan region. The city was just as magnificent as Rome, but lower key. I preferred it to Rome because of its size and atmosphere. My favorite thing about Florence was the food! Tuscany is famous for its exquisite cuisine, and all of the hype about the food is more than accurate. Unfortunately, we were only able to spend one day in Florence, but I will remember the rich taste of Tuscan food for the rest of my days.
From Rome, we traveled via charter bus to Southern Italy and the beautiful Italian coast. As a pit stop on the way to Sorrento, Italy, we stopped at the infamous Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vesuvius is notorious for destroying the majority of the population of the ancient Roman city, Pompeii, around 79 AD. Gloria, told us we would visit Mount Vesuvius, yet none of us were prepared for the hike we would take up the volcanic mountain. Although the climb up the mountain required much endurance, it was well worth it once we reached the top. As far as the eye could see, we could see city, the Bay of Naples, and rows upon rows of mountains. We could also look down into the volcano and see smoke billowing up. After leaving Mount Vesuvius, we went into the unique town of Sorrento, my favorite Italian town. Located on a cliff just above the Bay of Naples, the small town thrives on the tourism it receives from its beaches and ample lemon products. We were only in Sorrento one night, but I took my time that night to do something special for my grandmother. My grandmother, “Mama Lou,” as I like to call her, had a brother killed off the coast of Italy during World War II. She had asked me to pick up a pebble from the water for her if I happened to visit a beach while in Italy. The sun was just beginning to set over the water when I finally made it down to the beach to get her pebble. Mama Lou now has it placed next to a photo of me on the beach in Italy.
The next morning, we loaded up our belongings and packed the bus to head over to Pompeii. While I knew that Pompeii would be surreal, I had no idea how eerie yet extraordinary it would really be. The entire atmosphere was ghostly in a way, especially with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. I could not believe how everything was literally frozen in place throughout the city, nor could I believe how large the city was! I was truly impressed, to say the least, by all of the advanced structures that had been in place since as early as 79 AD. The Romans truly were efficient in their ability to build. The most shocking element about Pompeii were the bodies of humans and one dog that have been frozen in time. I cannot describe the haunting feeling I got when looking at the bodies, still frozen just as they were in 79 AD.
From Pompeii, we took our bus across Italy to the Eastern seaside where we loaded an overnight ferry to cruise to Greece. Saying farewell to Italy was bittersweet, for I hated to leave; yet, I knew I had an entire other country to look forward to. Greece had big shoes to fill, but I must say, Greece filled those shoes well, and then some.
We arrived in Patras, Greece, along the Western coastline of the country. As soon as our ferry docked, I knew Greece would be the country to steal my heart. The scenery was unlike anything I had ever seen before in my life! Our destination for the day was Delphi, Greece, and we stopped for lunch in a small town just below the village of Delphi. We dined along the crystal clear water and admired a genuinely breathtaking view. The water was so clear that it was impossible to tell where it ended or began and it looked as though it ran right into the mountains in the distance. I could not separate the water from the sky, for they blended as one. I knew immediately why the Greeks are such believers in mythology; even I wanted to believe in the myths after being there for only a few hours. From our lunch location, our bus climbed the tall mountain up to the small village of Delphi where the Temple of Apollo, the sun god, is located. We spent the evening enjoying the small quaint village of Delphi, which reminded me of many of the small mountain towns in my home state of North Carolina. The next morning, we ventured to the Temple of Apollo that is located atop a mountain with a view that goes on for miles. Again, I found myself understanding entirely why the Greeks believed the god of the sun existed in Delphi, for the brightness of the sun that contrasted with the bright blue of the sky was beyond mystical.
After leaving Delphi, we traveled across the countryside to Athens, Greece. The city of Athena, a clash of ancient ruins and modernity, was our final destination on our extraordinary journey. Visiting the Acropolis overlooking Athens was especially exciting for me. To know that the roots of government and democracy began right there where I was standing was humbling. At that moment, I imagined Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates walking the path.
After leaving the Acropolis, we made a short side trip to Cape Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon as our last stop on our trip. The Temple of Poseidon is located on a cliff jutting out into the water in a very intimidating way. Just as we began to drive up to the cliff to view the temple, the weather suddenly turned violent with intense winds and waves knocking up against the side of the cliff. We jokingly asked, “Who ticked off Poseidon?” At that moment, I found myself visualizing how it must have been for Greeks in the ancient days when the weather behaved as it was behaving for us. I would imagine they were very fearful whenever those moments arose.
Leaving Greece was more difficult than leaving Italy. The people in Greece were so proud of their culture and heritage and wanted to share everything with us. I will never forget the ways we were welcomed into their inns, villages, stores, and restaurants.
My trip to Italy and Greece truly changed my life. I learned how to get by in a foreign country and realized just how big the world around me is. Furthermore, the education I received from traveling was unlike any I could have received by sitting in a classroom. I would recommend a study travel trip to any student interested in participating. The Jan Term program at Converse provides students with an affordable opportunity to travel abroad, and I am grateful to have taken advantage of such a remarkable program during my time here.