A School Trip of a Lifetime!

By Paul Fielding | Posted: Tuesday November 24, 2015

Four countries, fifty hours of international fights and sixteen hundred kilometres of road travel. All this within three weeks made for an exciting and hectic European tour nicknamed Crossroads of Empires undertaken by twenty four students and eight adults from Logan Park and Queens High over the third term holidays.

From Istanbul to Ancient Troy, Gallipoli, Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Capri and Rome the busy schedule saw the tour encompass the modern and the ancient with cultural and culinary highlights throughout.

Starting with three days in Istanbul centred on the Sultanahmet neighbourhood encompassing the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace the tour saw how the great religions and leaders of the last two thousand years scrambled to control this geographically vital pivot of Europe that linked three continents along the Dardanelles.

Throughout the tour succeeding layers of ancient local custom, Greeks, Romans, Christianity and Islam have combined to create a diverse and vibrant area of Europe.

Shopping at The Grand and Spice Bazaars was frantic while modern street shopping showed that Turkey was now very much a twenty first century city.

Gallipoli was an emotional highlight as thunder and lightning assaulted us as we landed at Anzac Cove. Numerous grave sites showed the futility and human cost of the campaign and left us emotionally shell shocked as we ventured into the eerily quiet Shrapnel Gulley. Poppies were laid at Chunuk Bair and individual speeches based on students’ individual research on Otago soldiers who died at Gallipoli added a sombre touch.

Our Turkish guide Mustafa was easily the best of the tour with his knowledge, humour and dedication to helping all of us a delight.

After Gallipoli we entered a phase of seeing parts of Ancient Turkey from the nine levels of Troy, including a modern Trojan horse, to Pergamum and finally the ancient city of Ephesus with its incredibly preserved streetscape. The trip included a tour of meticulous hand- made carpets and a sophisticated modern leather factory where PEF succumbed to the incredible deals on offer, to dress both him and his two daughters.

Kusadasi provided a tourist haven to end our week in Turkey. We then flew via Istanbul to Athens where a scrambling frantic city of six million awaited us. The Parthenon did not disappoint even though we learnt that much of its artistic facade had previously been pilfered out of the country by conquering foreign neighbours.

Athens was followed by a four day road trip covering ancient Olympia, the Oracle at Delphi and the majestic monasteries at Meteor. Alexander the Great from Macedonia was a strong presence wherever we went as the Greeks guide Catherine strove to show us that the glory of the past was still linked to a modern and not yet down and out Greek nation.

After a stressful flight mix up from Athens to Rome our group was reunited as we travelled south to Sorrento and Capri. Here Italian cuisine won us over as well as the warm weather and people we met. After exploring the volcanic remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum we travelled north to Rome via the famous battle site of Monte Cassino where New Zealand troops fought bravely during the Italian campaign of World War Two.

Rome lived up to its grandeur with a hotel placement only five minutes from the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum. Here the food was delicious and somewhat expensive, while the locals were welcoming and keen to see us part with our tourist euros. The majestic Colosseum did not disappoint after a thunderous rainstorm passed and left us basked in blue sunshine for our guided tour. “A monument to raw, merciless power, this massive 50,000 seat amphitheatre is the most thrilling of Rome’s ancient sights. Gladiators met here in mortal combat, and condemned prisoners fought off wild beasts in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds. Two millennia on, the hold it exerts over anyone who steps foot inside is as powerful as ever.” Lonely planet

Finally we experienced the opulence and grandeur of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica in all their massiveness.

Almost all of us near exhaustion, we travelled home via Singapore where we were hit with the reality of temperatures and humidity from Equatorial living as we toured the immaculately clean and modern city, took a ride on the soaring Singapore Flyer Wheel and relaxed at a modern waterpark.

Overall this was a fantastic cultural and historic experience which everyone will reflect on for many years. Many of our fellow travellers met on the road were much more senior than our students and they were fulfilling their own bucket lists. To see this important part of the world so young must certainly be thought provoking and perhaps even life changing.

David Smith from Brooker Travel is to be greatly thanked for creating an itinerary which met our educational needs while providing excellent accommodation, superb food and knowledgeable guides throughout, enabling us to see so much of Europe in so short a time.

Check out Louis Whitburn's blog from the trip here

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