Today I woke up and walked out onto our terrace to see the beautiful view of Paestum. We ate breakfast then departed for the first place. It was a Greek and Roman colony with three temples and a town. The temples were to Athena and Hera (two for Hera, you can see them at the end of this post). There was another possible temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad. We found places in the forum for commercial, religious, and political. Two of the temples were for Hera, the mother goddess, and the other was for Athena. We explored the temples and completed the assignments. We then had some delicious gelato on the site.
We then traveled to Herculaneum and had lunch before we explored the ancient city. We first went to the boat houses, which were filled with skeletons. It was disturbing but cool.
We were then set free to finish our assignments. We had to find some mosaics, a bakery, and a tavern. My group, Team Gamma, the best team, recreated a scene that possibly occurred in the tavern.
We finished our assignments early and had extra time. I found this awesome drinking fountain that had the spout as the mouth of a man.
We only explored 1/4 of the city because the rest of it was covered by the volcanic ash and the new city. Visiting this ancient wonder was such a great experience because I had learned about it last year. Today was one of the best days of the trip so far.
We woke up at 8AM and went down to the lobby to have breakfast. After breakfast we went to board the bus where we prepared for a long drive up to Mount Etna. During the ride, our volcanologist Salvo spoke to us about charting volcanoes and the history of Etna. Our first stop was in the woods and we went in a lava tube. It was a cave underground where lava had flowed in the past.
After that we got back on the bus and drove a little ways to go to our next hiking station. On our way we were surrounded by endless volcanic rock from a 2002 eruption from the active volcano. Our trail to walk was completely volcanic material and Salvo talked about the rocks and the buildings that were destroyed due to the close proximity, including a hotel with 48 rooms that was crushed by lava twice.
After that we rode up a little higher, and found picnic tables to have lunch. We went to a little vendor to get souvenirs after we ate. Then we rode up a little bit more and did the majority of the hiking for the day. We walked on spiny steep roads to see the four main craters.
After we hiked back down, with all of our collected lava rocks, we hopped on the bus and headed to see the birthplace of Etna, which was 45 minutes away. We saw the site and then we got granitas and brioche for a snack. We headed back to the hotel to swim in the pool. We played silent and it was really fun!! Then we went in to shower and go to another 3-course dinner in the hotel. After dinner, we did our picture competitions, badges, and team points. Finally, sleep was GREATLY needed, so we went straight to bed.
Today we headed to Mt. Etna. Everyone here calls it “The Mountain” or a Sicilian word that translates as “Majesty.” The origin of the name comes from an ancient Phoenecian word meaning “smoking chimney” and fits with the ever-present plume of smoke present at the mountain’s highest craters. We were guided by a volcanologist named Salvo who also is referred to as Salvo-pedia because he knows so much about the mountain. He’s been eye-witness to almost every eruption of Etna in the last 30 years, and that means he has seen hundreds of eruptions.
Etna is about 800 square miles and is the largest active volcano in Europe. It is so tall that the ecosystems change several times as you ascend the slopes. The lower slopes look like the rest of this part of Sicily, but heading up takes you through coniferous forests, then there is a band of deciduous forests dominated by birch trees. On the higher slopes the vegetation is interrupted in places by recent eruptions’ lava flows that look more like a lunar landscape. The highest parts are volcanic rock with no vegetation.
In order to monitor the mountain, the Italian government has hundreds of sensors measuring all sorts of things. The system reports data to stations in Catania in order to disseminate the information.
In addition to monitoring the volcano to protect nearby towns, the sensors also provide warning to the air traffic controllers to keep planes from flying through volcanic ash sent into the atmosphere. The engines of a plane can re-liquify volcanic ash and rocks only to have them solidify before completely leaving the engine. Unsurprisingly, pilots don’t like having rocks in their engines.
After an eruption, the volcanic flows take centuries to break down. It takes nearly 1000 years for the a lava flow to return to thick forest. The first plant to sprout is a small flowering bush called Broom. Its roots are strong enough to break apart the volcanic rock, paving the the way for other plants.
A plant the locals call “Mother-in-law’s pillow” is another early sprouter. It has soft looking green foliage that masks viscous thorns underneath. None of the students understood why Salvo giggled when he translated the name into English.
After a day of hiking around the mountain, the group was exhausted. We went down to the coast and saw the location of the eruption that brought the mountain above sea level hundreds of thousand of years ago. Then we went around the corner for granita and brioche. Tomorrow we head for Messina to catch a ferry to the mainland.
We’ve been in Siracusa for the past two days, and tonight we’ve traveled to our hotel near the base of Mount Etna. Here are a few pics from the past few days, and we’ll give a more substantial update on our plans later this evening (reliable wifi definitely helps the blog posts coming).
Here we are a few days ago at Hera’s temple at Selinunte. The image is an interactive 360° pic, so you can see the size of the temple- it’s massive.
Most of our days include a stop for either gelato or a granita. Granita is like a slushy. They usually come in either limone (lemon) or arancia (orange). Gelato comes in many more flavors, and if you’re looking for a real treat, most larger gelato stores will serve gelato in a split brioche bun.
We’ve also spent some time swimming and exploring the small beach near our hotel in Siracusa. We were staying in Ortigia, which is the oldest part of the city. Siracusa was founded by the Greeks in the 700s BC, but like much of Sicily it has seen many different groups invade and conquer. As a result, the city shows different building styles and fortifications depending on who controlled it and who was attacking. The rocks on the beach where we swam gave a great view of the city and a place where the students found lots of sea glass.
Ortigia also has a daily market where you can buy all sorts of fresh produce, spices, fish and more. Sicily’s produce is delicious and in expensive. Peaches, apricots and a yellow plum are at all the markets. Students have bought bags of them and shared them on the bus rides.
And speaking of bus rides, they’ve become one of the best places to catch a few winks amidst an otherwise busy schedule.
Over the past few days we’ve had several of the students sharing their thoughts and experiences, but there are a few things that the students won’t mention that are important to bring into focus for everyone back home.
Three days ago as we started to explore Sicily by visiting Erice and later that evening in Trapani, the students were coming to grips with travel in a foreign place. The land is different. The language is different. Even walking across the street is different. Somewhere around the evening of the second day, that initial apprehension swings the other way as the students start to feel like they have mastered their new surroundings. The real question is whether they can find the happy medium.
How fortunate it is then that Dr. and Mrs. Pollio designed the second day’s visit to Segesta and its theater. While sitting inside the theater high up on a mountain top with a spectacular view throughout the valley, Mrs. Pollio spoke to the group about Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and theater. These two domains of Dionysus may seem unconnected, perhaps the product of some even-more-ancient sycretism among early Greek ancestors. But there is a connection between these two things that makes Dionysus’ place among the chthonic gods (as Kate mentioned in an earlier post) clear.
The importance of wine and theater were central to health for the Greeks. They added wine to their water to help purify it. Theater, in this case tragedy, offered the Greeks catharsis from watching the human experience on stage. Theater and wine are just two examples of the benefits of civilization- working together to achieve more, being a community. Mrs. Pollio emphasized the importance of “thinking what is beyond ourselves.”
Our Odyssey 2017 community is developing as well. Faced with an assignment of locating certain aspects of the Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina, the students found themselves navigating throngs of tour groups while walking on the narrow catwalks above the beautiful mosaic floors. As the groups completed their assignments and gathered outside, one of the staff members stopped Dr. Pollio and said he could not believe how politely our students worked their way through the site and the interest they showed in the history of the villa (I think he actually said he couldn’t believe they were middle school students that didn’t race through the walkways and get rambunctious). So there it is- a perfect example of working as a community to think about what is outside ourselves and achieve more.
We woke up at 8AM and went to breakfast in the hotel where we had dinner the night before. We both had croissants and water. We have noticed that lots of foods like croissants are a lot different here as they are much more sweet than savory. For croissants, rather than tons of butter, it is topped with powder sugar or a sugary glaze. After breakfast we went back to our rooms to pack up and then came down at 9AM, grabbed our lunches, and hopped on the bus. First, we took a short bus ride for awesome pictures at the white Turkish steps with a cliff side view.
After we got as many pictures as possible, we got back on the bus and headed to Agrigento to visit the Valley of the Temples. Greeks believed in starting with gods involved with the earth and they worked their way up to the top with divine and young gods and goddesses. That means we started at the bottom (Chthonic temples) and worked our way to the top of ridge looking at each temple. The first thing we saw was the Atlas figure, known as “Telemon”. Then we walked a ways and saw Zeus’s altar, and the ruins of his temple. If his temple was still constructed, it would be the largest temple in the valley. Next was the temple of Concordia, and it was fully constructed. they later turned this temple into a church. Finally, we saw Hera’s temple which was fully constructed. We then took a walk to meet our bus driver Salvatore with the bus, and drove to have lunch outside of a gelateria, Ragno D’Oro (golden spider).We had sandwiches and apples for lunch and then we both got stratiacella gelato. It was the best gelato we have had so far on our trip. After that we embarked on a two hour drive and headed to our last site of gathering day, Villa Romana del Casale (Piazza Armerina): Imperial Roman Villa. Our challenge was to go inside this 32,000 square foot house and take pictures of certain mosaics and figure out the room number on a map.
Since we weren’t allowed to walk on the ancient mosaics, there were catwalks for us to use as we walked through the villa. There were so many other tourists from other countries, some of which were very rude and pushy. After working our way through all of them we completed our challenge and headed to the market where we both bought bracelets and water. We returned to our new hotel in Syracuse, and had dinner before going to sleep.
Our day started with breakfast at our hotel, La Gancia, then we packed our things and went on our bus to Segesta. At Segesta we visited the unfinished temple and the theater where people like us sat thousands of years before. After our visit, we drove to a quarry that constructed columns to work and had sandwiches.Then, we drove to Selinunte to visit another temple. We went to a temple which was destroyed (now partially reconstructed) by the Carthaginians and took some pictures. Next, we went next to ruins of temples, and climbed over the destroyed columns and stone and begged Mrs. Pollio to let us climb back to the start once we finished the first time.
Lastly, we drove about an hour to our current hotel, Sole Mediterraneo, and swam in the STUNNING Mediterranean Sea. After we swam, we had a three course meal of pasta, swordfish, and lemon sorbet. It is currently 10:37 (4:37 for you all) and we got back from dinner about 15 minutes ago…. we will probably go to bed in about an hour. goodnight!!
Photo: Anaiya Roberts Photo: Kate RuffinPhoto: Kate Ruffin
Here’s a 360 degree look at Segesta’s amphitheater.
Yesterday we touched down in Rome, had one more layover, and boarded our final flight to Palermo. Everyone was excited to get out of an airplane seat and get moving.
We had a chance to take in some of the scenery as we drove from Palermo to Erice. The road we traveled was close to the coast, and just inland from us the land rose steeply up into the mountains. The drive up to Erice took us up a steep winding road, that you can see in a time-lapse video
Erice is an ancient mountain-top city dating back about 3000 years. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans all controlled or heavily influenced the city at some point in its history. We hiked through the city to find the temple dedicated to Venus and to see the salt pans down on the coast below.
By the time we reached our hotel in Trapani, the group was ready for a quick dip in the Tyrrhenian Sea, dinner and bed.
Exams and minimester are behind us. iPads are issued and charged. Bags are packed. Last minute check over the to-do list, and we’re set to gather tomorrow morning at the airport for our departure. After studying the ancient world through our courses this past year, it’s time to venture outside of lessons about the ancient Greek and Roman world and see it for ourselves- to interact with it, to be part of it- and hopefully then see our world with new eyes.
We have over 5000 miles of traveling ahead of us, so rest up tonight. I can’t wait.
To embark on an interdisciplinary, capstone study-abroad program in southern Italy and Sicily for Norfolk Academy 8th grade students.