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Interim Abroad: 1997 Tour of Italy

interim in Italy


We began and ended our tour in Athens, where we visited all the usual sites as well as a few off the beaten track. Our enjoyment and learning were enhanced by student reports (at nearly every site and not just in Athens), as well as by the services of John Ventiroso, an archaeologically trained Greek guide and our driver, John Maros.

Of course, our first stop was the Acropolis, which we could see quite easily from our hotel. Of course, there is the obligatory group shot in front of the Parthenon.

Despite having studied the Erechtheon beforehand, we were all a bit mystified at its several levels and many cult areas. We were also amazed at its intricate decoration.

After nearly half a day on the Acropolis, we were naturally a bit overwhelmed and more than a little tired. We concluded that the Acropolis is best experienced on a second visit.

As if the Parthenon wasn't big enough, we were blown away by the size of the temple of Olympian Zeus, mainland Greece's largest temple.

Of course, the changing of the Evzone guards at the Presidential Palace is standard fare for most tourists, as it was for us; but we became a bit adventurous and a group of us walked out to Plato's academy, where student John Lee struck a philosophical pose.

Back in the Agora, we heard a report on Socrates from Jen Exo. On our walk through the site we marvelled at the nearly complete temple of Hephaestus, and got up close and personal with the (unfortunately headless) statue of Hadrian.

Naturally, we sampled Greek food extensively, especially after those of us who were tempted to try the McDonald's in Syntagma Square found out that American-style fast food in Greece doesn't exactly remind you of home. Instead we frequented tavernas, like O PLATANOS in the Plaka, where our Greek agent, Mr. Bill Kappas, hosted a group meal for us.

On the Road: Daphne

Leaving Athens on our "Thermobus," we first stopped at the medieval monastery of Daphne on the outskirts of Athens. We were amazed at the church building which reuses parts of ancient temples; the Greeks were the original recyclers! Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, and it was impossible to get good photos of the spectacular mosaics inside.


Next stop on our way south was Eleusis, where we visited the site of the ancient mysteries. In the Museum's afternoon light we saw one of the caryatids of the inner propylon highlighted by dramatic shadows.


After a short ride across the Corinth Canal, where we had lunch, we stopped for the afternoon in ancient Corinth, where we explored the ancient fountain house and Kimberley Wendel even posed in the multi-seater public latrine!


Finally we arrived in one of our favorite places in Greece, the Venetian-influenced town of Nauplio, with its balconied houses and picturesque seafront. We spent part of a day exploring the Palamidi fortress high above the town. The view is fantastic, sweeping across the whole area.

Mycenae and Epidaurus

On a day-trip we took in both Mycenae and Epidaurus, where we say the glory of Bronze Age culture in the Lion Gate of Mycenae and the grandeur of Epidaurus' great theater.


After a long bus ride, we reached Olympia, where we wandered around the ruins of Zeus' sacred site. Sara Black, Kimberley Wendel, and April Millian wondered at the small size of the tubs in the ancient gymnasium, while others wandered around the shattered temple of Zeus. The temple of Hera is in better shape, but we could only marvel at the destructive passage of time. On a more upbeat note, what would a stop in Olympia be without our own race in the stadium, won by John Lee?


A strike by seamen made our trip to Delphi much longer than it should have been, but we managed to keep our spirits up. We were rewarded on visiting the sanctuary of Apollo on a clear, warm day. The vistas from the were striking, and the little precinct of Athena across the road wasn't bad, either.


A visit to the monasteries of Meteora was next, where we gasped at the Roussanou monastery perched high on its rock. On an overlook John Lee struck a wanderer-like pose, no doubt inspired by Fuseli.


Then it was on to Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. On the way we stopped in Dion, the Macedonian city in the shadow of Mount Olympus. In the National Museum of Thessaloniki we came face-to-face with the skeleton of King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Day-trips took us to Philippi (here St. Paul baptised his first converts on European soil), Vergina, Pella, and Beroea. The site of Beroea is marked by a modern baptistry. Interestingly, there is a Turkish mosque in modern Veroia, in a sad state of disrepair. In Vergina we met a guard who helped to excavate the site. We were struck by the artistry of the mosaics at Pella, and a fog at Philippi gave the whole site a spooky air.


We next returned to Athens, where we had several free days before departure. An optional side trip to Sounion was elected by the whole group; the wind whistling through the temple of Poseidon was memorable. Spirits were high as we prepared to leave. Spirits were high as we prepared to leave, no doubt inspired by the visit of four goddesses (a.k.a. April Berends, Kimberly Wendel, Katie Vegter, and Laurel Girvan) at breakfast on our last day.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were taken by Mark Williams, who also designed this web page. This site is subject to change; it is not an official site maintained by Calvin College.