Far away journeys

Published 6:44 pm Saturday, April 4, 2009

Try to imagine 10 days in Northern Italy and France following in the inspired footsteps of the greats, including Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Monet. Imagine the watercolor-perfect Venetian canals, the sculpture-lined Florentine piazzas, the sunlit seascapes of the South of France and the art and sophistication of Paris.

Then, imagine that you are a high school senior for South Alabama and are there soaking in all the history and culture of these previously only heard about and read about places.

For a group of Charles Henderson High School art students, this was the reality of Spring Break 2009.

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Thirty-nine CHHS students,, parents and adults from the Troy community traveled to Italy and France March 14-23 under the leadership of Pam Smith, CHHS art instructor.

“The benefit of traveling to another country gives the students the opportunity to experience places like Venice, one of the world’s most absolutely unique and unquestionable beautiful cities,” Smith said. “We toured the intricate labyrinth of streets and bridges and stepped into the Piazza San Marco, an airy expanse of arches, sunlight and pigeons. Then, we continued on to a glass-blowing demonstration. Venetian glass has long been considered the best in the world. We ended the day with a Gondola ride.”

From Venice the CHHS tour group traveled to Florence via Verona where they got to experience the intriguing Romeo and Juliet balcony.

“In old-world Firenze, the birthplace and focal point of the Italian Renaissance, we toured Brunelleschi’s elegant Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David at the Accademia,” Smith said.

The group then traveled to Cote d’Azur via Pisa and stopped to see the famous Leaning Tower. They spent two days on the Mediterranean coast, just miles from the Italian border, touring Monaco, Eze and Nice, France. In Eze, they visited a parfumerie where rich scents are made from local flowers such as jasmine, rose and lavender.

“Our last stop was Paris,” Smith said. “We traveled from the French Riviera on Europe’s fastest train, the TGV. We toured the world’s largest art museum, the Louvre, walking through the 71-foot glass pyramid and stepping into another world – one with carved ceilings, deep-set windows and so many architectural details you could spend a week just admiring the rooms.”

But the group only had enough time to check out some of the most famous art on the walls – the Mona Lisa, of course, and the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory.

“The Eiffel Tower was amazing from all views and seeing the Parisian landscape from the top of the tower was breathtaking,” Smith said.

The group also took a boat-guided tour along the Seine River and saw many of the Parisian landmarks.

“My students have taken a journey of discovery and enlightenment, through the history, art and culture of the world,” Smith said. “Not simply to pass through but to stop, feel, smell and touch the culture of the peoples and places they visited.”

Charlotte Smith, senior art student, agreed that the tour of Italy and France was a journey of discovery and enlightenment.

“The works of art are priceless. It was almost overwhelming,” she said. “You can look at pictures in books or watch movies but until you are there standing next to the original works of art, it is amazing.”

For Meighan Cobb, senior art student, her favorite part of the trip was staying in Nice.

“The whole trip you imagine all of France as being part of Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower,” she said. “When you arrive, it’s like arriving at an oil painting. The entire place was beautiful and I can’t wait to one day return.”

As a Catholic, Allyson Rogers’ favorite part of the trip was visiting Notre Dame during Sunday morning mass.

For junior art student, Ariel Peterson the most interesting part of the tip was seeing all of the old buildings.

“Some were a thousand years old and they were so well preserved,” Peterson said. “The fact that the ceilings, doors and statues had parts of them that were made out of real gold was impressive. It makes me wonder how smart and creative these people had to have been to create such things that have lasted so long.”

For CHHS teachers, Becky Ensey and Dorothy Peterson, seeing the wide world with a group of students was a unique and inspiring adventure.

“Over and over again, people commented on the good behavior and manners of our young people,” Ensey said. “Our students were wonderful ambassadors of their families, the city of Troy and the state of Alabama.”

Peterson was fascinated by the beauty of the French Riviera and the view of the Mediterranean coastline.

“But I think the best of the entire trip would have undoubtedly have to be Verona, Italy,” she said.

Each “tourist” has a special place but all said that the 2009 Spring Break trip to Italy and France will always be a special time in their lives and an experience they’ll never forget.