Friday, July 17, 2009

A trip to Hydra and a final farewell

On Wednesday we stayed in Nafplio and worked on On Assignment projects in the morning. After lunch, Matt led everyone up over the hill and down to the Nafplio beach where we enjoyed a swim in the Mediterranean. In true National Geographic spirit, some students explored, getting up close and personal with the marine life at the beach. Sea urchins proved to be the most unfriendly locals we have met so far. Fortunately, everyone left the beach intact, tanned, and generally satisfied. Dinner and gelato was followed by a showing of the first half of the movie 'Gladiator'.

Yesterday, we awoke early. An hour later, we were at a beautiful port town to catch the ferry to the island of Hydra. Things looked bleak when a man on a motor scooter came to tell us that the ferry was broken and wouldn’t be coming until 3pm … but after some expert negotiation, Matt secured a private glass bottom boat to take us to Hydra. We arrived half an hour later in the beautiful port. The Island of Hydra is especially picturesque because vehicles are are prohibited from the island. All transport occurs by foot or hoof! We enjoyed a long lunch, a walk around the island, and an afternoon swim in the clear, blue water.

By the time we got back from our day trip to Hyrda, we had just enough energy for a tasty gyro and the second half of 'Gladiator' in our make-shift movie theater.

Today, our last full day of the trip, is devoted to sharing the students' On Assignment work and spending time together. After the presentations we plan to have a final dinner in Nafplio (also to celebrate Gina’s birthday!) and to share our experiences and reflections on the expedition. It has been a true adventure and the ending is bittersweet. We hope that our studnets have learned about themselves and the world.

Signing off!
Breena, Rachel, and Matt

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Delphi to Athens to Nafplio

Last Thursday we touched down safely in Athens and headed directly to Delphi. We settled into our hotel and ate one of the most delicious meals of the trip-- needless to say, our students were thoroughly excited to be in Greece!

The next morning we went to see the ancient ruins of Delphi. We walked around on our own and took a tour from Electra. Electra explained to us the significance of the Delphic oracle; a woman who sat on a three legged stool in the center of the richly decorated temple (built on the site of a natural gas spring) and spoke prophesies in tongues. Priests then translated the prophesies for people who had traveled to Delphi from throughout Greece in search of guidance. Delphi was considered the center (literally the 'belly button') of the Greek world. We spent the rest of our time in Delphi focusing on our On Assignment Projects, hanging out, and eating excellent meals.

On Saturday morning we boarded a bus bound for Athens. When we arrived in Athens, we wandered the streets of Plakas- a labyrinth of markets, cafes, and stores at the foot of the Acropolis. The next morning we woke up early to visit the brand new Acropolis museum before trekking to the top of the Acropolis itself. It was impressive, if somewhat unpleasantly decorated by scaffolding that has become almost as legendary as the Acropolis itself! That night, we headed to a restaurant with traditional Greek dancing. Luckily for us, Matt had taught us some basic steps at the talent show back in Rome, so we were well prepared to get up and dance!

Before long, it was time to leave Athens for Nafplio, our home for the remainder of the expedition. When we arrived, we took a walk around the charming city center, ate dinner by the water, and then we headed to the 'Luna Park', a town carnival. Here, bumper cars were a popular attraction as were a few daring rides which took us upside-down.

Yesterday the group visited Epidauros, an ancient healing site known as one of the best preserved, acoustically designed amphitheaters in the world. From the top of the stands, we could hear a coin drop in the center of the stage-- it was amazing. Three of our boys treated us to a rendition of Elton John’s 'Tiny Dancer', which was followed by an intro rap to 'The Fresh Prince of Bell Air' performed by a few of our girls!

Next, we traveled to the ancient site of Mycenae, where we climbed the citadel and palace of what was the most powerful empire in Greece 3000 years ago. Matt shared a favorite poem about Mycenae with us, and then we all ate lunch and headed back to Nafplio to relax and work in On Assignment groups. We are all (especially the leaders!) looking forward to the presentations of our students' final projects on our last day here.

Today students are focusing on their final On Assignment projects during the morning. We are off to the beach and to climb to the top of the Nafplio hill citadel in the afternoon. All is well here.

Bye for now!
Breena, Matt, and Rachel

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The group is in Delphi

We've received word from the leaders that the group has arrived in Delphi, Greece.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Greetings from Rome

Hello all!

We have been busy since we last wrote! On Friday, the whole group made a trip to Ostia Antica, the archeological site of an ancient Roman port city that was deserted after a flood and re-direction of the Tiber. Students worked on short stories, took photos and studied the ruins. After lunch and a walk through the on-site museum, it was time for a trip to the nearby beach. Everyone enjoyed the chance to cool off in the water, listen to music and hang out on the beach.

Saturday was Massimo’s last night with us and also the fourth of July! In the morning we split up into On Assignment groups for individual projects; the Photography group went to a popular Roman wedding spot to shoot photos, Archeology students visited the National Museum and Journalism students stayed at St. Stephens to create their own blog,, to allow them to share their work with friends and family. Check it out if you haven’t already!

After a relaxing outing in the Borghese Park during the later afternoon, we headed back to St. Stephens for a 4th of July and 'Good Bye to Massimo' barbeque. After some expert grilling and a delicious dinner, we headed inside for a talent show where everyone shared something unique and fun. The night included acrobatics, ballet, Greek dancing and (how could it not?) a group Jackson Five jam session!

On Sunday we split up with one group traveling south to Pompeii and another heading north to Florence. After a long train ride, the Pompeii group arrived around 10:30 am and spent a long morning exploring. Afterwards, they stopped in Sorrento for lunch and some relaxation. The Florence group started their morning off with a walk through the San Lorenzo market, a relaxing lunch and then walked over to the Uffizzi Gallery where they checked out famous works like Bottecelli’s 'Birth of Venus.' The rest of the afternoon was a tad rainy, but students wandered around the beautiful center and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

After many day trips, we decided to take it easy on Monday with a late wake up and breakfast, followed by a trip to the Campo dei Fiori market for fruit. Back at St. Stephan’s, we colored, played tennis and basketball, made sandwiches and watched Ben-Hur. Monday also happened to be Jimmy’s birthday so that evening we took a walk into the center of Rome, got gelato and a two-man band to serenade him “Happy Birthday” in Piazza Navona.

On Tuesday morning we focused on On Assignment work. The Archeology group went to the Capitolini Museum, the Photography students took portraits of people at the Termini train station, and the Journalism group worked on profiles and a restaurant review in Trastevere. In the afternoon, the Archeology and Photography groups teamed up while Journalists worked on their blog.

Our last day in Rome, Wednesday, began with a trip to the Cappuccini Monk’s Crypt, where the bones of scores of monks have been rearranged into art to line the catacomb walls. Next, we walked to Castello St Angelo for some free time, followed by a relaxing boat ride down the Tiber. Then it was lunch and back to St. Stephen’s to pack. Tonight is our last dinner in Trastevere and everyone is getting dressed up!

Until next time. . . from Greece!

-Breena, Matt, and Rachel

the whole crew!

A farewell barbeque for our National Geographic Expert, Massimo Bassano (center)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Life in the Eternal City

It’s been a packed few days in the Eternal City. After arriving in Rome on Monday afternoon, our group was a bit tired and foggy to say the least. We spent an hour or so at the Fiumicino baggage claim before the group was whisked off to St. Stephens with (amazingly) every piece of checked luggage in tow. After brief orientation and a walk around the Circo Massimo area for gelato (the “best” in Rome according to their sign), everyone collapsed into their beds for a well deserved night’s sleep.

Tuesday afternoon was devoted to the Vatican, where our tour guide Bruno (not from the movie) gave us the inside scoop on the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s. Many students appreciated visiting the epicenter of the Catholic Church, while others seemed intrigued by the art history- whatever the points of interest, the cameras rarely stopped flashing. Hungry and exhausted from pounding the Vatican pavement, we headed back to St Stephen’s for a relaxing night in.

On Wednesday morning, we were especially excited to meet Massimo Bassano, our National Geographic expert. Massimo is an Italian photographer and journalist and has been a welcome addition to our group. After breakfast, he showed everyone a presentation of his work and introduced the idea that all of the students should be looking at the world through the lens of a National Geographic explorer by appreciating the intricacies of what is going on around them. He encouraged the students to take a closer look at the geography, history, people, products, religion, development, social structure, culture- everything around them, rather than be passive consumers. Being travelers instead of tourists is a big theme on this expedition.

After Massimo’s lecture, the students split up into their On Assignment groups for an orientation with their leaders Rachel (Photography), Matt (Archeology) and Breena (Journalism). Soon afterwards the group left St. Stephen’s for a walking tour of some of central Rome’s most famous historical attractions. We stopped at the Pantheon, where the students got to see the second largest dome in Rome, then for lunch on our way to Piazza Navona where the famous Bernini fountain “The Four Rivers” faces Borromini’s church. Next it was on to the Trevi Fountain and then back past the Forum and the Colosseum. After dinner the group gathered for a game of Mafia- where masterminds Gina and Jimmy displayed a truly disturbing/awe inspiring aptitude for the art of deception!

Today, On Assignment groups headed in separate directions to focus on individual projects. The Photography group chose Trastevere as their subject of choice, cataloging the graffiti, churches, markets and inhabitants of the vibrant quarter with what Massimo and Rachel described as significant technical improvement since yesterday. Meanwhile Matt took the Archeology group to the visit the Forum, the Coliseum and the Palatine Hill- a highlight of the trip so far for those interested in Ancient Rome, and a jumping off point for delving deeper into individual interests within Archeology. The Journalism group chose to journey outside the city to the Villa D’Este, an amazing UNESCO heritage site of fountain filled gardens that once served as a Renaissance haven for Roman elite. The inspiring gardens provided the perfect atmosphere for some creative travel writing.

It has been great to see everyone get excited about their individual projects and the trip as we all get to know each other and adjust to life in Rome.
After an early dinner this evening the group gathered for a presentation of our photographer’s favorite picks from the day in Trastevere and part I of the film Ben-Hur. Thus ends another action-packed day in the eternal city!

Breena, Rachel, and Matt

Monday, June 29, 2009

The group has arrived

We've received word from the expedition leaders that the group has arrived in Rome. Below is a message from the leaders:

Ciao a tutti,

After a day spent in airport terminals and planes, the group is in good spirits and getting settled in St. Stephen's School, our new home in central Rome for the next ten days! After a replenishing siesta and fresh panini, we plan to take advantage of the great weather and set out on a walk through the centro storico in search of antiquity, Roman culture, and of course, a cold gelatto.

Looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead!

A presto,
Breena, Matt, Rachel and the NGSE team from Rome

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Meet the Expedition Leaders

2009 Rome & Greece Expedition Leaders, left to right: Matt Kostakis, Breena Kerr, Rachel Langosch

Archaeology & Ancient Culture

Matt Kostakis. McGill University, B.A. A proud Greek-American, Matt majored in International Development at McGill and pursued coursework in Greek mythology, art history, fine arts, and photography. He taught Spanish and coordinated the foreign languages program at the Tuxedo ParkSchool in New York, and taught traditional Greek dance to middle school students. Matt spent four months volunteering with marginalized communities in Thailand and Brazil, and won a scholarship from Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, for the study of the Greek language. He led Putney Student Travel’s Language Learning program in Costa Rica in 2008. Matt has traveled extensively in Greece and Italy and spent much of the spring of 2009 exploring Italy, the Greek island of Ikaria, and the traditional Zagori villages of Epirus in northern Greece. Matt is an avid artist, photographer, and outdoorsman. He is fluent in Greek and Spanish and competent in Italian.


Breena Kerr. Santa Clara University, B.A. Breena is a professional journalist and blogger based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She concentrated in Journalism and Video Production at Santa Clara, where she was an editorial columnist at The Santa Clara newspaper. She spent eighteen months living, working, and studying in Rome and Florence, Italy, where she wrote on-line restaurant and night-life reviews and served as an administrative intern at The Florentine, an English-language newspaper. Breena has worked as a documentary filmmaker, an assistant producer, and a voice-over artist. She was a journalist and web intern at The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and currently works as a writing/English tutor in San Francisco. Breena is fluent in Italian and proficient in Spanish.


Rachel Langosch. Bard College, B.A. Pratt Institute, M.F.A. Rachel is a New York-based photographer and personal trainer. She majored in Anthropology and Photography at Bard, where she was a starting center for the varsity women’s basketball team. Rachel volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Nicoya, Costa Rica, served as a publication photographer at the Sigihara House Museum in Kaunus, Lithuania, and spent four months as an eco-tourism and reforestation volunteer for ProPeru Service Corps in Urubamba, Peru. She was and Americorps Youth Corps leader in San Jose, California and a head-shot and special events photographer for The Executive Source and The Simplicity Group in New York. Rachel currently lives in New York, where she works as a photography assistant for a freelance commercial photographer. She recently completed her Master of Fine Arts in photography at Pratt Institute. Rachel is part of the South 4th Cycling Team, a Brooklyn-based bike club, and a volunteer photographer for The B-Girl Project, an ethnographic study of female break dancers. She co-led the National Geographic Student Expedition to Ecuador and the Galàpagos in 2008.