Looking out at the bustling tarmac and cringing at the thought that I am about to be scrunched into a small seat in a metal tube rocketing across the globe for the next 10 hours, I wanted to end my chronicle. I can almost hear you sighs of relief that you no longer have to scroll through my voluminous tomes, and I promise this will not be one of those literary expositions. Instead, I want to shine light upon the true value of the trip. I leave you with blogs written by two of our students. The distinct journey of their lives have intersected for a moment in time, and these past 11 days have inevitably altered the path that lies ahead. Both Jen and Kaleb have trekked across the world, and, through separate eyes, they have witnessed the world beyond the borders of the HRBT. They will have a shared experience that will stay with them for the rest of their time at Norfolk Academy and beyond. Years from now, they may be scrolling through photographs of the bygone ages and stumble across a picture of this trip. It is true that a picture says a thousands words, but the memories that the photo will back are infinite. We must never allow ourselves to rely solely on the tangible evidence of our adventures, but rather take advantage of a more precious gift; the ability to engage socially with those around us and form lasting bonds of friendship that do not decay or fade.
- Matt Wilkens
On our second to last day in Italy, we went to Pompeii. Like Herculaneum, Pompeii looked so much more different than I had imagined. When I learned about Pompeii in Latin I, I imagined the site to be completely ruined with only the bases of the buildings intact. But seeing Pompeii in person blew my mind! The town looked not as if a volcano destroyed it but as if the town just deteriorated over time.
For the entire day at Pompeii, we were let loose to roam Pompeii by ourselves. The most exhilarating part of this entire Odyssey trip was being able to wander and get lost in Pompeii! The roads in Pompeii were so well preserved and walking on them felt weird because I had stepped where Roman citizens had walked so many centuries ago. Also, for future Odyssey travelers, I highly recommend drinking water from the public fountains in Pompeii. The water doesn’t taste bad but is actually really cold and refreshing.
Pompeii is definitely my favorite site that we visited. (Even though Caecilius’ house wasn’t available for us to visit…)
Throughout this adventure, we have been given the opportunity to explore some of the most historically important places in the world. We’ve studied Ancient Greek and Roman settlements, explored a volcano, and had the opportunity to see cities after being covered for over 2,000 years. We were able to understand the difference between Greek and Roman building techniques, learn how the Gods played a role in their everyday life and how they were able to please themselves with entertainment at their theatres. Though learning all this important information was really engaging, that wasn’t the most special part of the trip. This trip was made special by the way we were able to learn all this important information. Before we left on the trip, we had been split into three teams; Alpha, Beta and Gamma. These groups while at each of the sites, would be given a set of challenges to complete.The challenges acted as a guided learning experience, but the point of the challenges weren’t to make us only look for these things. The point was for us to explore and learn those specific things while we were exploring. The teachers would let us do this on our own. The three groups were then allowed to travel the sites on their own and forced us to rely on each other’s strengths to complete the tasks. This freedom given to the students allowed us to succeed, fail, learn, and have fun all in the same experience. That is why this trip was so special. Being with a group that bonded as well as we did and getting to learn from each other as our classroom from the past two years was being brought to life was a special opportunity. This sense of freedom caused all of us not only to evolve as teammates and leaders, but as people too. We were forced to associate ourselves with those we might not have before and because of this new friendships were begun. This odyssey gave us a lot of new information, but it also gave us new friendships and a sense of confidence when solving problems that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
I have a feeling that when we return home and you ask your child, “How was your adventure?” or “What did you see?” the answer is going to be something like, “The trip was great. We saw some really cool old stuff” and then the conversation will launch into the silly things, the funny moments connected to their friends on the trip, and the minutia that is more a side note than a main theme.
In a few days some things will start to bubble up to the surface and you will catch snippets of the experience. “We swam in three different seas,” “We sat in the theater where Plato sat,” “We went up 10,000 feet and hiked in and out of craters on Mt. Etna.” The pictures will help remind them where they were and what they saw. Their journals will offer another vehicle for memory and perspective. But, largely, it will be a jumble of places, food, monuments, ideas, facts, feelings, and people.
They have been swimming in a sea of history, art, architecture, philosophy, mythology, literature, science, and Sicilian/Italian culture. They have had full days of activities and arrived tired at the hotel only to shower and rest for a few moments, then dress for dinner at 8pm. I wish you could have seen them at dinner! Not only were they trying new things, finding new tastes, discovering new flavors, but they sat and talked and enjoyed life and conversation and each other for two or three hours, which is the Italian/Sicilian way. Despite the fact that sometimes their volume reached middle school refectory levels, we received compliments on their behavior from people of all different nationalities. Time after time, someone would approach our table, ask what we were doing in Sicily, pepper us with questions about our school, our program, our students and walk away impressed with and envious of them.
In fact, I am envious of them. They have made an Odyssey, an epic journey that will color all their experiences in the years to come. And, like Homer’s epic, it will take a lifetime to understand it and appreciate not only what it was, but also how it has changed them.
So be patient with them and their cursory retorts. Just ask them about the small things and you might start to see some of the big things.
I knew from several of his masterful performances at Norfolk Academy that one of our students, Alex Barton, is an extremely talented pianist, and, throughout the course of our journey, I have learned more about his dedication to his passion. Day after day Alex has logged innumerable hours in order to hone his craft and develop the dexterity and mental acumen needed to honor the great composers. One day, Alex asked me what were the chances that we would find a piano somewhere on our trip for him to play, for we had seen a couple in the airports in Charlotte and Rome that were already in use by other enthusiasts. Recalling my past experiences in Italy, I responded unhesitatingly that I highly doubt we would encounter the instrument along the journey. I could not be more happy that this statement would turn out to be false.
After our 8 hour marathon from Messina to Paestum, we arrived at our hotel drained of all mental and physical ability. Lo and behold, tucked away in the far corner of the reception hall, Alex spots his quarry. Immediately his face lights up with true joy, and he rushes to take his place on the bench. When he reveals the keys, I could have sworn I saw a feint bloom of dust rise into the air. The piano, a purely aesthetic piece, must not have been touched since it was put into place. Nevertheless, with a quick crack of the knuckles and a minor warm up, Alex was taking us through a tune. The ivory clanged and clunked, and the peddles would not sustain the notes. I was reminded of an old western film, where the maestro would play some catchy jingle to a raucous room full of ruffians holding cards and trying to cheat their opponents with a furtive ace up their sleeve. Despite being in desperate need of a tuning, Alex continued to wail on the piano without a care in the world. Nothing could disappoint this moment.
What a remarkable group of students! How fortunate we are to have so many wonderful young men and women on this trip. Each night, as the Pollio’s and I recount the day’s events under the blistering Italian sun, we have been consistently blown away by our unique bunch of students. No one is the same, and we would not want it any other way. Each one chose to embark on this journey, and each has received double, if not triple, returns on their personal investment into the experience. Every night we retell innumerable stories of the student’s triumphs. No matter how large or small, each has proven to be monumental in their development. From Jenny mastering the rolled “r” of quattordici, to Mackenzie facing her fear of heights upon the precipices of Etna, to Kaleb and Bennett leading their respective groups, unsupervised, through the sprawling city of Pompeii, or Anne Burns teaching Natalie how to dive into the pool, we have witness personal growth on an unprecedented scale. It would take 1,000 blogs to chronicle all of these moments, and I am sure by now you are tired of reading these long winded expositions. I must leave something for the student’s to share at the dinner table!
As I woke up on the morning of the sixth day of our excursion and stepped out upon the terrace, I stood in awe of the towering Mt. Edna. The smoking volcanic giant, speckled with tawny terra-cotta roofs glowing in the sun like wild fires, dominates the horizon. Are we really about to climb this mountain?! I think I need another espresso!
We slowly but surely cut back and forth across the facade of the mountain along hairpin, switchback roads, while our guide for the day Salvo, a world renowned volcanologist and Mt. Etna specialist, described in detail every square inch of the volcano that he has climbed since he was a young boy. All along the way up, Etna celebrates our arrival with multiple eruptions that spew ash and volcanic material high into the air from the active crater at summit of the mountain. For many of our intrepid travelers, their only mountain experience has been contending with the steep precipices and rugged terrain of the daunting Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach. Fearless, they stepped off the bus at nearly 10,000 ft and gazed out above the cloud line to the peaks of the Apennine Mountains over 150 miles away in the mainland of southern Italy. The cool, thin air is a welcome change from the dense heat of the valleys below. Nevertheless, the warning goes out to apply sunscreen and to remember that the very same brutal Sicilian sun now resides 10,000 feet closer to their heads. Alas, these wise words of wisdom would inevitably fall upon several deaf ears.
For the remainder of the day, we hiked all around the mountain listening to Salvo pointout every detail. He knew exactly when each lava flow occurred and how much material was deposited. We saw rivers of razor-sharp black stone that coiled around the contours of the landscape and the remnants of an ill-fated hotel, mangled into a pile of twisted metal and charred rubble. We traversed the steep crest of two cones from previous eruptions, and gazed down into the inactive lava shaft. We even tried our hands at spelunking as we traveled underground I nto a lava tube! All the while, Etna continues to grumble high above, sending billowing clouds subterranean gas and ash into the air like a noxious Ol’Faithful. Have no fear! Salvo promised us that he was not worried, but also slipped in a minor disclaimer; “If I start to run, you should too!!”
What an incredible moment in our lives. How many can say that they braved a climb upon an active volcano at 10,000 ft? How many can say the have witnessed a volcano eruption from less than a half-mile away? We can certainly check all of these and more from our bucket lists!
Today is the day we leave Sicily and travel to Paestum in southern Italy. Our route takes us across the Straits of Messina. Below you will find Rebecca’s account of our harrowing struggle to navigate between the voracious whirlpool, Charybdis and the rabid, six-headed beast Scylla. Which way will we go? Do we attempt to sail pass Charybdis and risk the loss of the entire expedition, or do we turn our prow towards Scylla and condemn only six of our companions to ensure the survival of the rest of our fellowship? Only the Fates know our destiny!
On our long travel day, we got up bright and early from our hotel and ate before sitting on the bus for five hours. When we first started driving towards Messina, many tired people had fallen asleep after the previous day of hiking on Mount Aetna. As I (and many others) were awoken by our peers, we came to find a body of water next to us, called the Straits of Messina. This was the most exciting part of our travel day, as we drove the bus onto a ferry and were carried across from Sicily to southern Italy. We drove for around four hours through southern Italy, until we finally arrived at the Poseidiania Mare Hotel. A few minutes after we exited the bus, everybody was refreshed as we splashed into the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, my favorite of all three seas. After dinner Mrs. Pollio taught us a really fun Italian card game called Scopa, which uses a completely different deck of cards than traditional games. After a mini tournament, teams Alpha and Gamma were tied with three wins, with a final game left to come.