Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Study Abroad / March 6, 2013

The trap of traveling

(Andrei Papancea/TKS)

(Andrei Papancea/TKS)

One of the most exciting things about being in Europe is the degree to which you can travel within the continent economically. This past weekend, I traveled to Rome with my history class. Our professor wanted to augment his teachings by showing us the monuments we have been discussing in class over the past trimester so the program director decided to plan a trip to Rome that would be included in our studying abroad tuition. Everyone, despite his or her participation in the history class, would attend the trip.

I have been to Rome before in my life. Knowing that we would see everything I’d seen in about a week in two days felt daunting, but not impossible. I’d done it before — I could treat the tours as a review while the rest of my classmates couldn’t. I felt bad for them; you cannot explore the Eternal City in two days. Each monument has its own history, its own cultural implications. These take time to understand. I felt like we’d run through the Louvre without stopping to gaze at the paintings. We’d just paid to walk on by everything famous after hearing a few words about it.

As a former artist and a current art enthusiast with a minor in Ancient Greek, I felt as though we were insulting the artists themselves.  We didn’t have the time to appreciate everything as it deserved to be appreciated from a specific point of view. But I’d done it before. The others hadn’t. I was the only person in the student group who had been to Rome before the weekend trip.

While we visited the major ancient monuments, our professor also wanted to emphasize the baroque period occurring within a number of churches throughout the city. This part of the trip was my favorite. My knowledge of the baroque period is lacking. I can’t pick out the architectural differences between baroque, high renaissance, and neoclassicism. Yet, after staring at ceiling after ceiling gilded in gold, I understand a bit more.

We spent 30 minutes in some churches just sitting in the pews and staring at the ceilings. Our professor didn’t have much to say about each church other than who painted the frescos. I wanted to learn more.

If this trip to Rome has taught me anything, it’s that researching after the fact helps to fill the void a lack of time can create in the appreciation of art. While the trip itself was meant to augment our in-class learning, I believe each purpose actually reversed it. Our in-class learning was meant to prepare us for the trip to Rome. Had I gone into the trip thinking that, I might have gotten more out of it. This possibility didn’t cross my mind because we’d covered Ancient Iberia and Ancient Greece before our Rome unit.

Traveling, for me, has become a jumping off point for learning, for traveling more. Ever since I first began traveling as a child, I’ve only wanted to travel more. When I’m working in the United States, I’m either saving to pay off my Knox loans or saving for my next trip without necessarily knowing where I want to go. Seeing new cities and finding some sort of similarity between them gives me new places to go. After Rome and the emphasis on Catholicism, I want to see Istanbul, where Catholicism and Islam existed side by side for centuries in peace. Also, when the Roman empire split between the east and the west, Rome became the Western capital while Istanbul, then Constantinople, became the Eastern capital. I have seen the western capital. Now, it’s time for the east.

I’m flying out to meet a friend in London for spring break. From there, we are going to Paris expressly to see the Louvre together before boarding a flight to Turkey, the one place in the world my mother doesn’t want me to go. With a government that has been in turmoil for years and a reputation that she doesn’t understand, she thinks it’s dangerous. In reality, very few tourists disappear from Turkey every year and the government has set up a special, and very attentive, police force to deal with such occurrences because they want to keep tourism active. I have absolutely no worries in going to Turkey. I’d be more afraid to stay in a Mexican resort.

So we are going. Perhaps my mom knows that seeing Istanbul will open more mental doors for me — that the next place I will want to visit will be a city in the heart of the Islamic world. Mecca. Riyadha. The Punjab region of Pakistan. Places where you need to apply for a visa months before the start of your traveling.  I think I understand why she’s so worried. That’s the crux of seeing new places — you never really want to stop seeing them.

Elizabeth Guth

Tags:  Catholicism Constantinople Europe greece Iberia islam Istanbul London Mecca Pakistan Paris Punjab Riyadha Rome travel Turkey

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