On the 14th of April 2018, 19 students from Years 9, 10, 11 and 12 and two teachers set off for a two week adventure in Greece and Italy.
Overview of Greece and Italy trip 2018
The farewell at Sydney Airport was emotional, for parents and students, but there was also excitement and an eagerness for the trip to begin. Two flights, and almost 24 hours later we landed in Athens. We were met by Mat, our tour leader for the duration of the tour, and boarded the coach for the drive to our hotel. When we arrived at the hotel we had time to drop our bags in our rooms and then we met in the lobby for our first walking tour. We first visited the Greek Parliament building and watched the changing of the guards before taking a walk through Athens National Garden.
Our next stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, the home of the modern Olympics. Here students had the opportunity to climb the stands and look across to the Acropolis and stand on top of the winners podium. Aiden and Ayla, who never miss the opportunity to compete with each other, raced to the top of the stadium and then along the track in their own small olympics. From there we walked to the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Olympian Zeus before heading back to the hotel. At dinner that night we celebrated Katelyn’s 16th birthday.
The next day we met our local guide, Yiannis, and walked to the top of the Acropolis of Athens which was the favourite Greek site of more than half the group, mostly because of the view which Alanah said 'was amazing'.
We were taught about the history and purpose of the Acropolis and the buildings on top of it including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. Our next stop was the Acropolis Museum where the remains of the Parthenon friezes can be found, along with artwork that has been recovered from the surrounding area. Our afternoon visit to the National Archaeological Museum showed us many different forms of Greek art, a favourite being the treasures recovered from Mycenae. In the afternoon we had some time to explore the Plaka and do a little shopping and of course, eat a little gelato. Dinner that night included a traditional Greek show of singing and dancing. Almost our entire group was called up to dance at one point during the show which made it a lot of fun.
Goodbye Athens, hello Olympia
On the 17th we said goodbye to Athens and headed south into the Peloponnese. We went to a lovely seaside town called Katakolon for lunch and then continued the drive to Olympia, our stop for the night. We explored the town in the afternoon and then had a talk from our guide Dora about the origins of the Olympics.
The next day we spent the morning exploring the ancient site of Olympia, learning about the different buildings at the site and the process the athletes went through, before running our own little Olympics. Mr Lavercombe was the surprise winner of the first race and Aiden was the clear winner of the second. However, David gets the award for gutsiest performance as he got off to a slow start and came back strong to finish second. Mr Lavercombe and Amisha both said that this was one of their favourite spots. After a tour through the museum we drove to Sparta. Here we visited the small museum that holds what little artwork remains from ancient Sparta and had the opportunity to walk amongst the ruins of the ancient site. After dinner a small group of us went out for gelato!
Our last full day in Greece started with a visit to the Treasury of Atreus, a highlight for Aiden. This is the beehive tomb of Atreus, father of King Agamemnon. Students were impressed by the size of the tomb and had fun pretending they could reach the roof if they could only jump high enough. From there were drove up the road to the ancient site of Mycenae, home of King Agamemnon. It is from this city that Agamemnon led the Greeks to war against Troy. For many students and Miss Fonti, this was their favourite site in Greece. Chloe and Katelyn both said Mycenae was their favourite place because the view was amazing.
After lunch and a quick demonstration of how Greek pottery is made we drove to Epidaurus. Epidaurus is an ancient theatre that has been preserved for thousands of years. An earthquake triggered a landslide that covered the theatre in earth, keeping it safe. As a result the theatre is almost completely in tact. Once again the competitive nature of our students came to the fore as Josh, Nick, David and Hayden raced to be the first to climb to the top. The girls took a more leisurely approach and thoroughly enjoyed the view. From here we headed to Tolon, our home for the night, and spent a few relaxing hours walking along the beach and playing beach volleyball. Ayla, Hayden, Josh, Kate, Nick and Damon all said Tolo was one of their favourite stops in Greece. Mr Lavercombe included it in his top 3 places overall. It was an amazing spot and after being on the go so long, we all really enjoyed the down time.
When in Rome
The 20th had us farewelling Greece but not before making a stop at the ancient site of Tiryns. Tiryns is a Mycenaean acropolis and we were able to walk around the ruins listening to our guide, Dora, explain the different features and the history of the site. Then it was back on the bus and back to the airport. We said a sad farewell to Dora and George, our bus driver, and after a small mishap with a missing passport we checked our luggage and headed through customs.
We had a small amount of time in the airport and a number of students took advantage of duty free prices to do some shopping. Hayden, David, Chloe and Miss Fonti were a big help to Jess who wanted some extra opinions on what perfume to buy. The flight to Rome only took two hours and before we knew it we were in Italy. We had to wait for our coach to arrive but once it did, we drove straight to our hotel. Everyone was very excited on the drive into the city and there was a lot more chatter and laughter than usual.
We arrived, dropped bags in rooms and went straight to dinner. After dinner we set out to explore Rome at night. First stop was the Trevi Fountain, a highlight for Chloe and Nick, then onto the Roman Pantheon. Rome was busy and overwhelming and exciting and very different from everywhere we had been so far!
After a good night's sleep in one of our top two hotels it was time to check out Rome by day. We caught the Metro to the Spanish Steps, a highlight for Hayden and Wajiha, and from here we had time to wander through the streets of Rome, shopping, sightseeing, more shopping and of course, gelato. Kayla and Emilie had a horse-drawn carriage ride while the boys discovered the biggest McDonald’s they had ever seen. After the Spanish Steps we had to get back on the Metro and then walk a bit more to the Vatican. On the way we came across a natural spring fountain that has been around since the ancient Romans built it and so naturally, we all had to try it. The water was cool, fresh and delicious!
At the Vatican we met our new guide, Elisabetha, who took us into the museum and explained the history of the Vatican and much of the artwork we saw along the way. We were extremely fortunate to be able to go into the Sistine Chapel. For lunch we went to a place called Pizza By Weight where you pick what pizza you want and then pay based on the weight of your choice. Everyone loved it!
After lunch we went back into Vatican City and joined the line to enter St Peter’s Basilica. As we were in Rome on ‘Birth of Rome Day’ the Basilica had been closed so we were in line for at least 2 hours but there was an exciting atmosphere in the square and we did a lot of people watching. Once we were through security we took a lift and then climbed over 500 steps to the top of the dome. I am extremely proud to say that everyone made it to the top, even though some students were concerned about the close space in parts of the climb. The view was amazing and definitely worth the effort. Once we had our fill of the view we climbed back down the stairs to explore the Basilica. Bailey, David, Pritam, Chloe, Jess and Damon were intrigued to learn about all the pope’s who have been buried under the gold grates in the Basilica. After the Vatican we went to a restaurant for dinner and then went back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Our second day in Rome was all about discovering the ancient sites of the city. Before we set out to explore we visited the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks. This is a crypt that has been decorated in the bones of previous monks. It was interesting and for some students a bit unnerving but Amisha said it was one of her favourite places in Italy.
The Colosseum was our next stop and the favourite of Kate, Chloe and Emilie. Bailey also said it was his favourite site in Italy and described it as ‘very impressive’. The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre in Rome, was the site of gladiatorial games and mock naval battles. Elisabetha was our guide once again and she kept us all entertained with her knowledge of the Colosseum. Afterwards we walked over to the Roman Forum, the heart of politics, economics and society in ancient Rome. Elisabetha explained what some of the key buildings were for and in so doing helped bring to mind a picture of life in Rome 2000 years ago.
We bid farewell to Elisabetha, who was an amazing tour guide and one of our favourites from the whole excursion and stumbled upon a parade honouring ‘Birth of Rome Day’. There were people lining the road leading to the Colosseum and the procession included people dressed up as ancient Roman soldiers, generals, emperors, royal women and barbarians. After the procession we went for lunch where many of us had our first full sized Italian pizza, so yummy!
Exploring the Colosseum
At the top
Mt Vesuvius view
In the afternoon we walked past the monument of Victor Emmanuel, which is huge and looks like a giant wedding cake. Then we went back to the Trevi Fountain, more coins were thrown in for luck, love and the wish that one day we will return to Rome. We then continued our walk and went back to the Pantheon. This time we were able to go inside and view the amazing dome. The Pantheon is one of the most impressive structures in Rome. Emilie, Jess, Chloe, Katelyn, Paris and Miss Fonti then bought gelato from Mat’s second favourite gelato shop and sat down in the square to people watch. After our short break we walked to Piazza Navona, a favourite place for Wajiha. Here we were given free time and for most of the group this meant shopping. The shops and stalls in the area did very well that day. Clothes, jewellery and souvenirs were all purchased in abundance. Wajiha demonstrated exceptional bargaining skills when she purchased a bag for less than half the original asking price. And I think between Jess, Chloe, Emilie, Kate and Miss Fonti we purchased half of the scarves for sale in Rome. After we had shopped till we almost dropped it was time to go to dinner and to celebrate our second birthday of the trip, Nick’s 16th. It was a great way to end our final day in Rome!
After breakfast we packed our bags and boarded the coach south. It was sad to say goodbye to Rome which we had, all thoroughly enjoyed. Mr Lavercombe said that he “loved Rome”. We had a quick lunch stop along the way and when we arrived at the Bay of Naples we stopped at a jewellery store which had amazing, beautiful, handmade pieces that some students were unable to resist. From there we caught a small bus to the car park of Mt Vesuvius and then began our trek to the top. For some students this was easy but for others it took a bit longer and a few rest stops. Eventually we all reached the top and were able to enjoy the view and see the steam that is still rising from the crater.
Climbing Vesuvius was a highlight for many of the students with Alanah saying that she enjoyed the challenge of the climb and Josh said that ‘it was thrilling’. Ayla, Pritam and David all said the view was amazing and Paris said it made the climb worth it. With a few slips on the way we eventually made it back down to the bus and then to the coach and on our way to our home for the rest of the night, Hotel Aequa in Vico Equense. Before dinner we had a short lecture about gladiators from Dr Jo Berry. I know we all learnt something new and it was very interesting.
That night Mat shouted us all gelato at his favourite gelato shop and we all had to agree with him by the end that the gelato was delicious. We then walked to a lookout with a view across the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius with the city of Naples at its feet. It was a beautiful spot with a view to match. Then we went back to the hotel to sleep.
On to Pompeii
The next day we finally got to tour through Pompeii. This was the highlight of the trip for Jess and a favourite of Amisha and Kayla. We had Dr Estelle Lazar as our guide until lunchtime and her knowledge of the site was incredible. She was able to tell us of her time spent excavating parts of the site which was absolutely fascinating. We stopped for lunch and another round of gelato and then went back into the site with Dr Jo as our guide for the afternoon. We visited different parts of the site from what we had seen in the morning and by the end we all had a fantastic idea of what life was like for the residents of Pompeii when the volcano erupted in AD 79. When we had just about walked our feet off we said goodbye to Dr Jo and caught the train to Sorrento. Once again we had some time to explore the town and this meant more shopping and and more gelato, for energy of course.
By dinner time, a number of the girls had picked up new nicknames, reflecting the new friendships forged from sharing this experience. Dinner that night was at an amazing restaurant, split over many levels with a beautiful indoor garden and pot plants all around. The food was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. That night a group of students and some of the teachers went out to a nearby restaurant to watch a soccer game while everyone else had an earlier night.
April 25th marks the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli. Deciding that this is a moment worth commemorating wherever we might be in the world. A small group left the hotel just after 5 and went to the lookout we had visited two nights before. Miss Fonti explained the significance of the day, Kate read the ode, we played the last post and the national anthem, Mat thanked everyone for participating as having had relatives fighting in WWI it is very important to him and then we went back to the hotel. Some to bed and some to an early breakfast.
Our first stop on our second last day of the tour was Oplontis and it was here we met Antonella, our tour guide for the day. Oplontis is the site of a wealthy Roman villa that was buried by the same eruption that buried and thereby preserved the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Itwas a grand villa by both ancient and modern standards with beautiful artwork lining the walls of most rooms, marble tiled floors, fountains and a huge swimming pool that was fed by natural springs. The artwork of Oplontis is in good repair compared with many of the buildings found in Pompeii so it a was very interesting visit. From Oplontis we drove to Herculaneum. Herculaneum was much smaller than Pompeii and was more of a seaside resort town for the wealthy. Only part of the city has been excavated as a new city was built over the top of it in the centuries after the eruption. It was great to see the differences between the two cities.
Our tour guide helped make it interesting by having different students reenact the everyday lives of the ancient Herculaneans. Josh became a shopkeeper and Damon, Hayden, Nick and Josh showed us how close people sat next to each other when using the public toilets. This was very funny for the rest of us. Our guide kept them squatting there for so long it turned into a bit of a competition of who can hold a squat for the longest. It was funny to see them all slowly straightening, except Josh who got more serious looking but held the position. Well done Josh!
After our tour we had a few minutes to check out the gift shop and then we boarded the bus for Naples. Our lunch was traditional Italian pizza! This is a thin pizza, with a tomato base, oil and herbs. It doesn't come sliced and is generally eaten with a knife and fork. It was a lot colder in Naples then everywhere else we had been for the last few days and most people were only in t-shirts. While we were waiting for lunch to arrive Damon asked if he could borrow my scarf and watching David attempt to help Damon put it on was highly amusing. Not everyone was impressed by the pizzas when they arrived but a surprising amount of the group cleared their plate.
We had our last museum visit after lunch at the Naples Archaeological Museum. This museum houses many pieces that have been removed from Pompeii and Herculaneum in order to preserve them. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour, especially when a number of students were asked to stand like the statues we were looking at. From here it was back to Vico Equense and some free time. For some students this meant volleyball in the empty hotel courtyard while others went shopping and had a final gelato. Just before we had to meet up for dinner, Miss Fonti took half of the group back to the lookout to watch the sunset and take some final pictures. Dinner that night was at a restaurant that serves pizza by the meter, it was really cool but after demolishing a pizza each at lunch we struggled to finish them. Afterwards we walked back to the hotel, had a few rounds of Mafia (a card game) and then it was time for bed.
The next morning we packed up and left the Bay of Naples, heading north. We stopped at the Abbey of Monte Cassino along the way and had a wander through. It was a beautiful church and the view was incredible. Lunch was in town at the base of the mountain and while some of us took the opportunity to have a final pizza in Italy, others went to Mcdonald's. After lunch we boarded the bus for the last time bound for the airport in Rome.
Most of the boys and Miss Fonti passed the time talking about the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and pondering who we expected to die in the latest Avengers movie which had come out the day before. We were at the airport before we knew it but then the waiting began, we were too early to check in for our flight. We found a place to sit and while some students caught up on their diaries, others played uno and some took advantage of the free Wi-Fi. After we checked in walked through to our gate which included catching a tram as the airport is huge. There was some last minute shopping, spending the remainder of our Euros and getting some last minute presents and snacks for the plane then we settled down to play Mafia and enjoy each others company. It was becoming very clear that as excited as some were to be going home they were also clearly going to miss each other. Two flights later and a lot more sleep for everyone this time, we were home. Once we cleared customs it was just a matter of matching students to their families and saying goodbye, again with a few tears.
Hold the squat
Is that a statue?
Enjoying the different buildings
We had an incredible two weeks and in that time friendships were forged and strengthened. Lifelong memories were made and we loved every minute of it. We are already talking about where we want to go next. Watch this space!