The glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome

It was the trip of a lifetime for 29 Lillooet Secondary School students and the 13 adults who accompanied them on a 10-day visit to Italy and Greece.

The Mar. 21 to 31 trip began in Milan, Italy, continued on to the Renaissance city of Florence and then to Rome, the Eternal City. They had time to travel to Naples and the nearby  ruins of Pompeii, which was nearly wiped out by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. They visited the fabled Isle of Capri and sunny coastal city of Sorrento before taking the ferry to Patras, Greece. From there they journeyed to the sacred mountainous site of Delphi and on to the ancient Greek capital of Athens where they spent their final three days before flying home. Whew!

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LSS counsellor Kim Halayko told the News it was a “crazy schedule” with the group waking at 5, 6 or 7 a.m. to be on their bus by 8 or 9 “or earlier” for their first activity of the day.

The personal highlight of the trip for her was a visit to the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel where she sat in silence on a long, narrow bench, craning her head upwards to marvel at Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam and others scenes from the Book of Genesis painted on the chapel’s famous ceiling. Halayko did research before the trip, reading “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and said the background knowledge it provided enhanced  her appreciation of the famous masterpiece.

Halayko said there was so much to see that standout moments and memories of the tour will be as individual as the people who experienced them.

The students on the trip were from Grades 9 to 12 and the tour was organized by a company called Explorica, which specializes in educational travel and student tours.

She said it was the first trip to Europe for the students and their first surprise was the nine-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany where they changed planes. “They knew the flight was long, but I don’t think they realized just how long nine hours is in a plane.”

The trip provided up close-and-personal experiences of history, art, architecture, geography and literature. The students also learned saw how densely populated  Europe is, the constant crush of people, the wild traffic in Rome, the narrow alleys of Florence and the wickedly adventurous drivers of Naples.

She said they ate more pasta than they’d eaten in a lifetime, sampled the souvlaki in Greece and had fun with the creaking single-passenger elevators in European hotels – when there were elevators. In many of their hotels, the bathrooms had no toilet seats.

The group was fortunate to be in Italy during Holy Week. Although they were unable to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome because Pope Francis was conducting Good Friday services, they saw a Good Friday procession in a town near Sorrento. The procession started from the church and wound through the streets, with “everyone in town” apparently participating.

“For kids not familiar with Catholic Church, it was stunning,” she recalls. “People were, dressed in black robes and religious music was playing. The kids were so good and so respectful; it must have taken an hour for the procession to go by.”

 She adds, “The only time they would have seen something similar would have been in a movie. We had such a good conversation with the Grade 12s the next day in the back of the bus, talking about symbolism.”

Halayko said she could tell the students were thinking of home “a lot. They would say ‘Oh, this countryside looks like Cache Creek or this reminds me of the Lower Mainland. This reminds me of so and so.’”

She said they also had a real-life experience of global politics. In Greece, they drove by a refugee camp located in an old airport. They were told that Greece has been taking in refugees for “as long as people can remember.” Now, because of the Syrian refugee crisis, the world’s attention is focused on those refugees and their efforts to reach a safe haven in Greece. “But Greece has been taking in refugees forever and the country is broke. It was a political science lesson,” said Halayko.

She noted it was also a lesson in gratitude as students and adults alike grew thoughtful, comparing their lives in Canada with those of the refugees and citizens of Greece.

Halayko says she thinks everyone on the trip is “still processing” their experiences.

“I believe these will be memories that last a lifetime.”

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