Travelers not Tourists

On the Ponte Vecchio

On the Ponte Vecchio

Tonight we said goodbye to Florence, going up the Piazzale Michelangelo and getting a great view of the city at sunset.  It was amazing.  But I need a new camera.  I thought I would post a good picture from above the city, but my 2001 early digital model, which seems antique compared to those of the students, did poorly.  This is probably the best I can do:

Florence at sunset

There were a few others that were OK, but this one has the river, and you really need that to get a full sense of the majesty of the city.  I think you’ll just have to make it to Florence yourself, a picture can’t do it justice.

After a day of Santa Croce, the Dante House, Accademia (David) and the science museum, we ended with a nice walk through the city on a glorious night.   I love going through the streets of the city, lit up but yet feeling still a tad medieval due to the brick and stone.   The Piazza della Signora at night is my favorite spot in the city, it’s magical.  

Visiting here so often, and now blogging while doing this course, I really appreciate the importance Florece has for our culture and society.   Capitalism got its nascent start here from the Medicis whose patronage gave us unbelievable art, science and literature.  The geniuses of Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, Plutarch, Boccaccio, Michelangelo and countless others shaped our history.  Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo, was part of the Florentine Camerata, a group of poets fascinated by Greek music and history.   They would invent Opera, which was first performed in October 1600, initiating the Baroque era and shaping western music for centuries.

Hearing the sounds of the city from the window of the hotel I know this was not enough time in Florence, there is so much to see and do.   Alas, tomorrow it’s off to Milano.   There we will see “The Last Supper” by Da Vinci, then catch a flight home.  However, we also will get a day trip to Venice in on Sunday, the day before our return.  I’m not sure if the Milano hotel will have wireless internet — if not, I may not get a chance to blog again before getting home.  Luckily the hotels in Rome and Florence have been internet friendly, and I’ve enjoyed being able to write about this trip.

Ultimately, though, this course is focused not just on helping students learn about Italy, but learn to become travelers rather than tourists.  It gives me a sense of joy to believe that the students are experiencing something that will change them and expand their horizons and outlook.   Most of it isn’t from anything in particular I or my co-instructor Sarah do.   Sarah gives  them a lot of information about Art History, and I talk about the issues I blogged about, plus Italian politics and tomorrow the risorgimento.   We answer questions, plan the schedule, and help them figure out how to operate in Italy.  But most of all it’s simply the opportunity to be in a different culture, combined with the expectation and guidance in truly exploring that culture rather than viewing everything as a tourist.  

There is a difference between a traveler and a tourist.   A tourist takes pictures of famous things, goes to restaurants with easy to understand English language menus, complains about things that aren’t what he or she is used to, and views the experience through his or her own cultural lens, not really trying to get into the culture of the country being visited, except to view it as an interesting or quaint way of doing things.   A traveler wants to learn about a culture, understand it, engage it, and personally grow from each visit to a different place.   A tourist is judgmental and feels entitled.  A traveler is humble and feels privileged.  Our goal in this course is to help students learn to be travelers rather than tourists, and to recognize that it is much more enjoyable and fulfilling to embrace learning a culture rather than just having fun in an exotic location.  If they can take a little bit of that with them after this trip, it will be more than worth it.

So it’s on to Milano!

  1. #1 by Lee on February 21, 2009 - 22:09

    Your camera did well! I certainly get a vibe for a city so richly different from anything I have ever experienced.

    I think the tourist vs traveler comments are very apt. However it doesn’t just apply to traveling to another country. My boss literally has never had a vacation he has enjoyed other than (sigh) the time he went to Vegas. This is someone who even hated Hawaii which totally boggles my mind! And his comments were so much like what you mentioned with regard to things not being “right” and “normal” and “expected.”

    My very best vacation was in Puerto Rico when we got to spend 7 days at the home of a friend who lived there. It was a tiny village high in the mountains and very much allowed us to be travelers instead of tourists.

  2. #2 by henitsirk on February 24, 2009 - 21:15

    Oh, the luxury of being able to say “Alas, tomorrow it’s off to Milano”. I’m one of those parochial Americans who has never been outside the country, though I don’t think I would be a tourist as you define it, as I haven’t acted that way within the US!

  1. Roma! « World in Motion

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