Past Alumni Excursions—Alumni Travel Journal
Island Life: Ancient Greece and Turkey
September 26–October 4, 2011
Judith Jeffrey Howard ’67
We’re just back from the fantastic Island Life: Ancient Greece and Turkey tour with the U of R Travel and Learn Program. We enjoyed excellent hospitality led by our U of R hosts, Christopher and Amy Raimy, and U of R faculty, Thomas Hahn and Bette London, both of the English Department. We sailed from Istanbul to Troy and Ephesus, then on to the Greek islands of Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini, Delos, and Mykonos, finally docking in Athens. At each stop, we had local guides and transportation to the sites from our beautiful ship, L’Austral.
Istanbul was completely new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect in a city that is modern and ancient, secular and Muslim. I found a place defined by its physical setting, spilling over the Bosporus and the Golden Horn, and equally by its centuries of changing cultures that capture one’s attention and imagination. It has wild traffic (my husband and I crossed streets by closely following women pushing babies in strollers whenever possible), wonderful food, countless cultural centers from old mosques to the Museum of Modern Art (now showing an exhibit of works by modern and contemporary women artists from Turkey), and the indescribable Grand Bazaar (“You look like a woman who wants to buy a rug!”). Jet-lagged the first afternoon, we stumbled on and quickly away from what we guessed was a political demonstration while exploring Taksim Park where Nobel-winning novelist Orham Pamuk played as a child. We headed for quieter quarters and bought drinks on the top floor of the Intercontinental Hotel, where we could watch the play of sun and ships on the Bosporus below. The next evening our group cruised the Bosporus, seeing the European and Asian sections of the city, watching the sun set, and feeling the wind.
In our two days there, we visited mosques with striking calligraphy and beautiful tiles. The Blue Mosque was a highlight. We explored the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, and the Roman ruins in the Hippodrome. With free afternoons, some of us sought out the old book bazaar, others the spice bazaar, others local rug emporiums.
We boarded the new French luxury ship, L’Austral, and began our cruise with a compulsory lifejacket and abandon-ship drill that was followed by seven days of not worrying about anything.
Our first excursion was to the ruins of Troy where we were able to see the layers of the several cities on the site, debate explanations for the current distance of the ruins from the water, or simply stand on the plains of Ilium and feel the wind in our faces.
Scholars’ talks on board ship in the afternoons provided background on the history, philosophy, and archaeology of ancient Greece, an intriguing biography of Heinrich Schliemann, and a discussion of the lost city of Atlantis. By far the best lectures were by our own Thomas Hahn who offered fresh perspectives on the Iliad and the Odyssey that we are still discussing.
Other archaeological sites included Ephesus, Patmos, and Delos. Ephesus is a vast excavation of a Greco-Roman city. The remains of forums, shops, houses, temples, amphitheaters, and the restored façade of the Library of Celsus line the ancient street that we walked down. Just over a hill are the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was breathtaking (in every way – we walked A LOT on this trip!).
Subsequently the ship docked at Patmos where local tradition claims St. John the Apostle wrote the Book of Revelation in a cave that is now part of a church within a monastery/fortress.
At Rhodes, we walked up the medieval Street of the Knights, which has not changed outwardly since the Knights of St. John occupied the extant inns, now adapted to modern purposes. The Palace of the Grand Master at the end of the street was rebuilt by Italian occupiers in the time of Mussolini. Many of us also hiked up to the Acropolis of Lindos, an ancient Greek site with a rebuilt temple to Athena and ruins of the additions to the temple made in antiquity, all under a fabulous blue sky, over transparent blue water, and swept by the wind. Like so many sites we visited, it felt like the kind of place where someone could make a pair of wax wings and believe he could fly.
Delos is a huge, uninhabited, archaeological site, once home to the treasury of the Delian league, now displaying replicas of the lion statues that guarded the island in antiquity. We found mosaics among the ruins of a once-thriving cultural and commercial center, including the site where mythology tells us Apollo and Artemis were born.
Santorini encouraged me to change focus from ruins to beautiful, whitewashed villages and scattered blue domes perched among cliffs and lagoons. We had lunch overlooking the caldera of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history. Our guide pointed out grapevines twisted into basket shapes so that the grapes grow on the inside, protected from the wind by the leaves. With little rainfall and no irrigation, the vines soak up moisture from the mists absorbed by the 200 feet of ash in which they grow.
The economy of Mykonos, our final stop, has not yet been completely absorbed by the tourist trade. The maze of streets protects people from the wind – and makes it easy for tourists to get lost. Our visit included a working bakery operated by the same family for centuries.
The tour included a culinary demonstration on board, and two culinary excursions onshore. We had an absorbing session with two of our local guides answering questions on contemporary life –education, economics, politics, and recreation—on the Greek islands.
The ship was lovely and luxurious, offering delicious food and various forms of entertainment in the afternoons and evenings. Nothing equaled, however, the sight from my balcony of Orion over the Aegean in the hour before dawn. A fantastic trip.
Village Life in Tuscany
June 7-15, 2008
John DeTraglia, MD '64 and Cynthia DeTraglia
In June 2008 we took the Village Life/Tuscany tour sponsored by the University of Rochester Office of Alumni Relations. This was after the brochure nearly hit the circular file.
The trip was spectacular. The tour directors, including a lovely young woman named Fernanda who was a native of Tuscany, did an outstanding job presenting a wealth of information about the culture and history of the region. We were delighted to also have a representative of the University of Rochester accompany us throughout the tour.
Our home base was a small, family-owned hotel in Siena that was conveniently located and whose staff was very friendly and accommodating. Each day we set out from the hotel and visited a number of delightful Tuscan cities and towns including Florence, Pisa, Lucca and San Gimignano. At each destination, a tour guide specializing in that specific area shared with us their knowledge, passion, and love for the area.
The entire experience was exquisite. We did everything—-made a meal at the Culinary Institute in Siena, sampled great wines and foods, heard spiritual Gregorian chants at a stunning monastery in Sant'Antimo, and listened to first-hand accounts of life and education in Tuscany from residents of the area. There was no shortage of spectacular scenery and magnificent architecture. We had a fabulous time, met some great people, and returned home with memories that we will always treasure.
Amazon River Journey
February 15-24, 2007
Marianne Lenti '68E, '70E (MM), '79E (DMA)
“Am home, fine. Have trinkets. Mind blown. Love, Mom” was the first email post to my grown sons, living in distant cities. The trip with Rochester alumni down the Amazon was, frankly, more than words can convey. From the first meet-and-greet in Lima to the final dinner in five-star surrounds, none of us could simply “sum up” this experience. Instead, we feel as if we shall all live diverse but enhanced lives from this point in our journeys. Far from the shores of the Genesee.
We paint our futures upon a new, rich tapestry of colors, of experiences, of awareness. No, the color is not simply a new Green. It is a mixture of hues: the black water of the Amazon’s tributaries, the soft brown of the anaconda in the nature preserve, the gentle gold of the tiny, sweet peppers stir-fried with our lunch. It is the blush of blood red on the skin of the piranhas we caught and ate. It is the incredible stratae of blue-vermillion-orange-violet which streaks the horizon daily as the sun sets on the river. We peered at the mix of red-green-stark white-navy blue of the laundry that flapped on the clothes lines in the village of Nuevo York. We waited for our guides in the plaza of Navda with its Americanesque red-white-blue colonnade surrounding village artifacts. Splotches of sunlight yellow, fire-engine red, gentle blue, and glaring white of the little towns faded into the shadows of the surrounding forest as our small boats roared back to La Tourquesa. . .The Turquoise. . .our home for seven nights on the largest navigable river in the world.
I have no idea how many miles we walked along the rain forest floor in order to reach the hanging bridges, looped like so many drifts of fabric from the giant trees which make their way to the sunlight. One by one, we slowly made our way across great expanses of ferns, trees, lichen-splotched arbors of every size and shape. We each stopped to peer over the side, alone, just as we might look down from the cupola of a Gothic cathedral. For this writer, it felt much like church: special, silent, hallowed, beneath gravity defying arches of emerald green.
It was as if the volume of life was muted, so that we might harken to the sounds of nature. The call of the squirrel monkeys was clear, but the animals themselves eluded the lenses of our cameras quite effectively. The noisy cackle of flocks of parrots sounded forth. Were they scolding us for invading their territory? The lot of us peered through our binoculars, oohing and ahhing as we spotted a hundred or so, peppered in the branches of a dead tree. Toucans, parakeets, warblers and finches of every description sounded forth. Our guides whistled back, hoping to lure a few into the open. None of us will forget Robinson’s “Wow. Wow, there he is! Take a picture! Take a picture!”
A special afternoon on black water . . . then into a hidden lake . . . ended with the plash, plash of our wooden stick-fish poles as we slapped at the water to excite the piranhas. All was absolute silence. A silence which no longer exists in our world of what we call civilization. And then the shout of one of our fishing buddies: “I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” A palm-shaped piranha slapped the air as our guides gently removed the hook. We peered at the spiny-backed fish with its rows of pointed teeth. No, there was no bloodbath. We shall all view movies with an educated eye, suspicious of drama-enhanced Hollywood versions of life in the forest. We learned that the piranha is an omnivore, and so it is able to keep the Amazon clean as a bottom feeder, scooping up the debris of river life. The river people, those small colonies which very occasionally spot the banks, rely on the piranha as an important protein source.
The people are kind and gentle. Older children care for the babies. Mothers scrub their clothes clean at the river bank. Men strain under loads of firewood (used only for cooking), bananas, or plantains, readying for market . . . market that occurs every day in this land of fresh food and no refrigeration. We brought school supplies for the villages; we entertained the curious children with their own images, now trapped in our magical digital cameras. The sound of their laughter will resound in our minds forever—along with their shouts of joy as they joined us in playing soccer in a clear spot on the side of the single, straight sidewalk which made the way from house to house possible, even during the rainy season.
What we might have viewed as primitive was seen with new eyes. The Peruvians of the rain-forest have survived with their cultures intact, dating back for centuries. Time itself stood still for us as we became champions of preserving the river, preserving the villages, preserving a way of life with a capital L. It was a magical experience, one we discussed over dinner, night after night, as this group of alumni continues to learn, along a very special river—far, far from the grassy banks of the Genesee.
Marianne Lenti ’68E, ’70E (MM), ’79E (DMA), a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, resides in Greenwood, South Carolina with her husband, Anthony Lenti ’67E, ’69E (MM), ’79E (DMA), also an Eastman graduate. The piano duo teach and perform internationally.