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Question: What is the first thing you do when visiting a foreign city?

Go to a food market (or supermarket), buy local food, observe local people - 25% (1)

Make haste to see the main landmark - 25% (1)

Find out about cultural events in town and attend one the same day/night - 25% (1)

Buy a map - 25% (1)

Crush on the hotel/hostel bed and sleep through the first day - 0% (0)



Total Voters: 4


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  Cultural Travel
« on: March 20, 2006, 10:14:00 AM » by Sofiya
I will start here a new section, where I'll be sharing my experiences and ideas about traveling, that consists of a little bit more than hundreds of pictures taken and checklist of things-to-see completed. It would be wonderful if people join in and share their experiences and tips.
My first story will be about Italy trip I was on last week, March 13-18. It is probably unusual to go on the first 'school trip' long after high school and college years turned into memories. This is the charm of ECLA, the private school in Berlin I'm currently attending: one week trip to Italy is turning into a nice tradition, and everyone participates: students, that come from different countries and backgrounds, faculty members and administration staff. The school is only five years old and is an interesting experiment in the sphere of education.  It is exciting to be part of it when everything is still in flux, everything is allowed to be criticized, questioned, improved (I always find myself involved in different projects at the dawn of their development, and it is so also with KadmusArts website)
The purpose and choice of cultural pilgrimage to Italy (Rome and Florence) has been like other things at ECLA something to think and argue about. It does not yet follow naturally from the program of the school, while there is an insistence that it is not simply a tourist vacation, but there is more to it. Last year there was the whole week of lectures and seminars dedicated to Italy, meant to prepare us for the trip. In the future it is possible that the whole term could be arranged to follow through ideas, concepts, that come from antiquity, early Christianity, Renaissance, baroque period, modern period as they were shaped in Rome. It would tally well with the interdisciplinary approach the school has towards learning: on a trip to Rome history, art, philosophy, cultural criticism come together, coexist and bring about rich experience.
I've been a student at ECLA for two years now, and had a chance to go to Italy twice. The time chosen for the trip is certainly ideal, as this seems to be the only way to escape Berlin snows and start the spring on time.
I will generalize here and say that it took me the second visit to Rome to start putting a historical and cultural puzzle together, enjoy a more paced and balanced experience of the city. What I learned from this read in the next post...

« Last Edit: March 21, 2006, 04:47:03 AM by Sofiya »
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  Rome: lesson 1
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2006, 05:36:19 AM » by Sofiya
First impression is the deepest, and it's better to be open for a surprise than plan it ahead. On my first visit to Rome the first night I took a walk with two of my friends. The monumental empty city gave me chills, and then we almost randomly found ourselves in front of Fontana di Trevi. We had it all for ourselves, and we stood there mesmerized. A few minutes later the shadow of the Pantheon fell on us heavily. Ever since Rome has been largely about overwhelming power for me. What this story also proves that when visiting a new place it's great to see it first early at dawn or late at night.
The important thing in Rome is to spare energy and ability to take in the endless richness of the city. One way to avoid disorientation and exhaustion is to focus during the visit on one aspect of this bustling city: 1) to explore the ancient remains of the imperial Rome (roam around Forum Romanum, Palatine Hill, Colloseum, Castel San'Angelo), 2) to admire the works by Michelangelo (spend a day on St.Peter's Cathedral and Vatican Museums, including Sistine Chapel, step in San Pietro in Vincoli that holds the statue of Moses); 3) to limit oneself to baroque achievements of the city (visit the architectural gems by Bernini and Boromini, piazza Navona, Galleria Borghese, search out all the splendid Caravaggios, which would certainly take a couple of days).  These are just a few suggestions, and they do work for those, who can tell themselves that there will be a next time for the rest.
One advantage I had in Rome was that some faculty and students suddenly turned into amateur guides and took us to various sites, offering surprising takes on places we visited. For instance, what worked exceptionally well was when our historian read  from  The Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius on the Palatine Hill, at the site of the residential area of the post-republican Roman emperors. This was an entertaining and vivid explanation of what I experienced as limitless and  ostentatious power display at Forum Romanum, Colloseum and other Roman sites.
Similarly what could work (one Romanian girl suggested it to me) is to pick up a copy of Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian: after that the Pantheon, Villa Hadriana in Tivoli, designed by the emperor himself, as well as Castel San'Angelo (Hardian's masoleum) would appear in a different light. I'm sure there are a lot of other ways to be prepared, and watching the Gladiator before going to the Colloseum or Roman Holiday before going to the Spanish steps must be great!
I'm off to Paris today, but will post a few more things, including useful tips of "how to do as Romans do" soon...

« Last Edit: March 21, 2006, 07:15:40 AM by Sofiya »
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  remembering Rome while in Paris
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2006, 02:28:49 AM » by Sofiya
Never have I traveled so intensely. I'm in Paris, partly to attend the conference on Belarus and Ukraine, partly to discover this city for myself. Before my numerous impressions about Paris form into coherent story, I'll tell you about one concert I attended while in Rome.
I do think that going to festivals and concerts in a foreign country/city gives the experience of the place different from all the others, so for me it was always an essential part of forming an idea of the place, the mores, the people.
It is quite remarkable how many various cultural events are happening in Rome daily. On one night I had about four options, and I had to  make a choice. I opted for one concert at Chiesa di San Paolo (Anglican Church of St.Paul), given by the orchestra “I Musici Veneziani.” This ensemble consists of venetian musicians and singers, who regularly perform opera arias in different locations in Rome. All the female performers were dressed in XVIII century costumes, which added a nice touch to the performance ( I won't question here why men were not dressed in period costumes, and would not it make the event even more interesting). The acoustics in the church was light and velvety, the singers and musicians were not only exceptional, but they also had fun during the concert, were playful and expressive, by this token creating joyful and elated atmosphere. The program had a small disclaimer, saying that one should beware of other companies around Rome that borrowed the idea and also perform in the period costumes (while delivering lower quality of the performance). I would not be able to say if this warning is justified, and we would need someone with more inside knowledge to point out which concerts to attend and which to avoid.
Some tips in the next post...
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  Re: Cultural Travel
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2006, 01:01:56 PM » by Ana Maria
Sofiya,
Your post reminds me of a time in my life when I lived in Madrid as a student. The idea of creating a framework around your travel, either through studies, literature or cultural events makes the experience so much richer-  as you are now experiencing.

During my time in Spain, I decided to take a month long class that focused on the novel by Benito Perez Galdos- "Fortunata y Jacinta", which takes place in Madrid during the 1800s.  We would read the book and visit many of the sites mentioned.  I saw this city in a totally different light. It was a shared experience (with my classmates) but at the same time a very intimate one.  Kind of like going to a really good festival.....   
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  Rome: tips and resources
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2006, 03:30:49 AM » by Sofiya
Thank you, Ana Maria. That sounds like a very memorable time. I must say that cultural industry has recognized the meaningfullness and attractiveness of traveling with the focus. Who has not heard about tours given based on Da Vinci code (it was fun to see in Paris at Saint Sulpice church a notice, demystifying and exposing some claims made in a "recent bestselling novel")? I myself would love to do a Crime and Punishment tour in St.Petersburg once.
Similarly there are organizations emerging that organize trips to festivals, which is a great idea. On the other hand, I think it is perfectly possible to organize these things independently and individually, adding some personal touch to itinerary...

I'll return once again to Rome and share some final tips. To find out what is happening in Rome during the time of your visit, two websites should be useful: http://www.wantedinrome.com/events/ & http://www.whatsoninrome.com/
One cultural institution seems to be very interesting to know about, as it offers variety of concerts and festival events, and since I did not manage to visit it in person this year it would be wonderful if someone with inside knowledge could post here some comments. The website address: http://www.auditorium.com/

Finally some traveling tips:
  • public transportation in Rome is difficult to figure out, that is why one should be prepared for a lot of walking (it is better to explore Rome on foot anyway, since there is always something exciting around each corner)
  • lunch is served in Italy till 3 pm, and after that only tourist places offer food, which is usually more expensive and not as 'authentic'
  • lines are very long in places like Colloseum, Vatican Museums, St.Peter's, and there is hardly any way to avoid crowds, so one should stoically bear it. It is worth trying to go there very early in the morning, but this won't guarantee a private experience of these places.
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  something about Paris
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2006, 05:27:56 AM » by Sofiya
All right, this time I will be less didactic and wordy. Paris was beautiful, and people there were surprisingly hospitable (even though I hardly knew a word in French). So much for the stereotype.
I stayed with two girls whom I found on www.hospitalityclub.org There are a few of these virtual communities already, and this one is growing daily. It is based on beautiful  ideals and allows one to travel around the world, being hosted, showed around and cared for  by the locals. I do not want to advertize this idea too much, leaving space for someone's objections and scepticism. I can also see how some people might abuse this community, simply taking advantage of 'free lodging' and 'free traveling' without any thoughts about the substance and seriousness of the interaction with people they meet on the way. However, there are a lot of people in this club, that are genuinely interested in cultural exchange, and that's what's attractive to me most.
One of the girls I stayed with (both of them were Ukrainians living and working in Paris) told me a lot of interesting things about French culture, development of French language. She also told me about how she enjoys visiting medieval festivals in France, and after that I showed her KadmusArts website. The festivals she spoke so enthusiastically about were  Fête médiévale de Provins and Fête des Remparts. She told me that a lot of people love these festivals and attend them regularly. Most of them have their own medieval costumes, that they wear on the occasion, so the whole thing turns into a colorful feast. Fête médiévale de Provins apparently invites guests from a certain country each year, and last year it was Mongolia. Two visions of medieval period come together, and I imagine this must be an incredible spectacle.

« Last Edit: April 06, 2006, 09:35:50 AM by Sofiya »
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