Greece: Pivotal Places

Led by Jim May, Professor of Classics, and Donna May, Teacher
June 10–25, 2016
$4,800 per person, based on double occupancy

Greece, a tiny country the size of the state of Alabama, has exerted a remarkable influence throughout history, even on our modern world. Come with us on this Study Travel program to the Cradle of Western Civilization to explore several places that proved pivotal in the history of Greece and the West.

Beginning in Athens, the birthplace of democracy and home of the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum, we will also visit the sites of three crucial battles: Marathon, the location of the first great victory of the Greeks over the Persians in 490 B.C. that gave its name to the famous race; Thermopylae, the site of the heroic stand of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans against the invading Persian King Xerxes, in 480 B.C.; and the island and bay of Salamis, where the united Greek fleet finally turned back Xerxes and the Persians, and established an empire that gave rise to the glories of 5th Century Athens, the Golden Age of Greece.

We will explore other pivotal places including the island of Santorini (ancient Thera), the location of the devastating volcanic eruption (17th Century B.C.) that buried the ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri, and produced one of the most fascinating geological sites in the world, believed by some to be the lost Atlantis; the island of Naxos, with both ancient and modern attractions; the island of Delos (and its neighbor Mykonos), legendary birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, site of the treasury of the Athenian League and now replete with archaeological finds; Volos, the point of embarkation for Jason and the Argonauts on the first ship, the Argo; Meteora, home of monks and monasteries poised on rock-needles that sour into the air; and Delphi, considered in antiquity the “navel” of the earth, housing the most renowned oracle of the ancient world.

Along the way, we will explore the history of Greece, both ancient and modern, sample delicious Greek cuisine, and experience first-hand philoxenia, legendary Greek hospitality, for which the country and its people, from the time of Homer, are justly famous.

Program Leaders

Jim May is Professor of Classics and the Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor at St. Olaf College. He is editor of Brill’s Companion to Cicero: Rhetoric and Oratory, the author of Trials of Character: The Eloquence of Ciceronian Ethos, an annotated translation of Cicero’s On the Ideal Orator (with Jakob Wisse), two textbooks, 38 Latin Stories and 46 Stories in Classical Greek (with colleague Anne Groton), as well as many articles on Cicero, classical rhetoric and Latin pedagogy. He most recently published a Ciceronian student reader, containing Latin passages and commentary from several of the orator’s most notable works. Jim has taught at St. Olaf since 1977, and served as the College’s provost and dean from 2002-2011.

When not immersed in his role as a St. Olaf professor, Jim competes in handball, restores antique tractors and old cars, builds harpsichords, plays baroque instruments, chants Gregorian-style and sings in a Renaissance chamber choir. Besides having visited Greece 35 times, his greatest claim to fame is having been one of 170 rowers who powered the trireme Olympias, the replica of an ancient Greek warship, around the Aegean Sea in 1990 and again in 1993.

Jim and Donna, a professional singer, choir director and high school music teacher, have two sons, Joseph and Michael, both graduates of St. Olaf.

Personal Perspectives: What Previous Participants Say

“It was, as I anticipated, a fascinating and illuminating experience.”

“Well organized, educational as well as fun.”

“Thank you for doing such an outstanding job! We really appreciate all of your hard work ‘behind the scenes!’ St. Olaf continues to set the standard for educational trips!”

“I was on the 2006 trip to Greece, enjoyed that immensely, and felt the same about this year’s. Jim and Donna May, Dimitri Cocconi [our tour operator] and Stella Galani [our national guide] are an unbeatable combination. And, just as in 2006, we were fortunate enough to have a great mix of friendly, interesting folks on the trip. Thanks for another unforgettable experience.”

What was your favorite “behind the seen” experience? “Standing in the shade of a tree at Troy, listening to Jim read the story of Priam begging Achilles for the release of his son Hector. As Jim says, that was BIG!”

What to Expect

Greece is a mix of modern and rustic. Large cities have all the usual amenities, while smaller towns and rural areas may feel like a step back in time, with an unhurried air, and warm, friendly people.

Greece is not handicapped accessible. Though we will transfer between cities by air-conditioned private motor coach, you should be prepared for lots of walking. Greece is full of tiny streets, mountains, hills and dales — places a bus just can’t get to. You should be capable of walking a minimum of one mile at a time over uneven terrain and up to five miles per day, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Hotels will be tourist class (typically three or four star) with private baths, air conditioning and English-speaking staff. In smaller towns, we often secure the best hotel available, which may be two star (small sleeping rooms, and fewer amenities such as in-room coffee making service).

June weather in Greece is generally delightful — 60s (Fahrenheit) in the evenings, 75-85 during the day. It will start getting warmer as July approaches. Highs could be in the 90s (even high 90s) some days; lows might be in the high 70s or even low 80s. Humidity is fairly low, which means the shade offers relief.

Most days, we will depart the hotel between 8 and 9 a.m.; we will coordinate our departure time in order to maximize our time at that day’s sites. We will stop for lunch at some point in the early afternoon (usually between 12 noon and 2 p.m.). Often we will resume our program after lunch, visiting another site or museum. We will try to avoid the hottest part of the day, but sometimes being out in the sun will be inevitable. Some days will have several hours of free time; others will have very little or none at all. We try to return to the hotel in time to relax and freshen up for dinner. Greeks eat dinner much later (particularly in the summer months) than do Americans, and dining for the Greeks is much more than eating; it is time to socialize, to sing, to dance, and generally to experience fellowship with friends. We generally arrange for our evening meals between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. This can make for long days on certain days.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.int.

Program Fee

The program fee is $4,800 per person. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Jim May, assistance by Donna May and a full-time national guide, accommodations, breakfast daily and group meals as listed on the itinerary, admissions for group activities, ground transportation during the program, internal program flights or ferries, gratuities to group guides, drivers and meal servers, and limited medical coverage while overseas. For single occupancy, add $985.

Airfare to and from Greece is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: International Airfare • Airport transfers • Any passport and visa fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Gratuities to hotel staff • Baggage and trip cancellation insurance • Beverages, including at group meals • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • Lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.

Making Your Travel Plans

You should plan to depart the U.S. on Friday, June 10, 2016 in order to arrive in Athens on June 11. Plan to depart from Athens any time on June 25, 2016.

For assistance with flight arrangements, may we recommend our long-time travel agent, Noreen Deiss of Travel Leaders. She can be reached at 651-789-5443 or noreen@tvlleaders.com. Flights will be available in airline systems about 11 months prior to departure; however, we recommend you not purchase non-refundable airfare until we can confirm the program has enough participants to go.