Authenticity – enquiry – tolerance – humility – humour
The ‘educated-traveller’ is a celebration of life, nature, human achievement, and our magical, precious environment. It is about ordinary people, chance meetings, conversations, experiences. It’s about great people and extra-ordinary places. It is a highly personal version of events – it is what I have seen and observed. It is my interpretation of these things. I hope that my thoughts are interesting to you, and I welcome your comments and observations. I write as truthfully and honestly as I can.
A lifetime ago I crossed the causeway that links Venice to the mainland of Northern Italy. The beauty of the city is captivating. Palaces, canals, hundreds of bridges. Everything transported around the city by water or hand-cart. The blue-green waters of the lagoon lapping against white marble. Wooden posts for mooring the gondolas. Boats and water everywhere. A bustling city that hasn’t really changed since the 17th century. More than 1500 years of history before my eyes. Venice represents the very best of human creative energy. This sums up the ethos of the ‘educated-traveller’ blog too. A celebration of life, nature, human achievement. I’d like to invite you to explore some of the posts and let me know what you think. What resonates with you, what makes you nod in agreement?
The blog posts that I write fall into three broad categories:
1/ PEOPLE – this could be any kind of person; a shoe-maker in Venice, a dedicated gardener in Oxford, an archaeologist in Jericho or perhaps Freya Stark a doughty female traveller to the Middle East in the 1930s. Or at a more festive level it could be an article about Lily Bollinger, who ran Bollinger Champagne from the 1940s until 1971.
2/ PLACES – of out-standing natural beauty, or areas that fascinate me. This might be The Alps around the Rhone Glacier, Switzerland or the barren Judean Hills north of Jerusalem. It could be the wild and exposed Grimsel Pass in Switzerland or the fairytale chateaux and lush green gardens of the Loire Valley in France.
3/ JOURNEYS – both physical journeys from one place to another AND ALSO journeys of the mind, inner dialogues connecting one event with another. For example a road trip from France to Northern Italy From Monaco to Pisa with love…. or a recent journey from Chartres Cathedral to Canterbury Chartres to Canterbury – A Pilgrimage
I delight in linking the history, geography, art, culture and language of a place or a time in a way that is easy to understand and (hopefully) interesting.
Here’s an example of what I’ll be talking about,
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’.
These words were written just about one hundred years ago by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Frost was writing in the early days of the First World War. He had recently returned from England where he had spent time with Edward Thomas (fellow writer and poet) with whom he would walk in the countryside. Some say that Frost’s poem was directed at Thomas and his inability to decide whether to sign up to fight in ‘The Great War’. Shortly after reading this poem Thomas did sign up and in fact died in the trenches in 1917.
For me the poignancy of Frost’s words are profound. ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ My generation is so fortunate, we have lived through a time of peace in Europe. We haven’t faced the challenges that our grand-fathers and great-grand-fathers had to endure. For us life so far has been about choices, individuality and freedom.
At the same time that Frost was writing, the suffragette movement was gaining ground in Britain. More and more women were campaigning for universal suffrage (the right to vote). Their colours were purple, white and green. Purple signified dignity, white was purity and green was hope. I owe a great deal to these female campaigners. When I got a place at Oxford University, it was at St Hugh’s College. A college founded in 1886 and dedicated to teaching women. When St Hugh’s was established by Elizabeth Wordsworth (great niece of the poet William Wordsworth) she wanted to create a women’s college in Oxford where women could study and learn and be part of the academic community. She created a centre of learning that has since educated politicians, lawyers, national leaders, writers, thinkers and business women. I’m proud to have had that opportunity, to have been part of that great heritage. Very recently I discovered that our second female British Prime Minister Theresa May was a student of St Hugh’s College, Oxford and even read Geography – my subject!
It’s hard to believe that just 100 years ago women in Britain could not vote. Women’s suffrage came eventually in 1928. In America it came earlier, if you were a white American, as a result of years of campaigning by Susan B Anthony and others. Of course in the US full universal suffrage only came properly to all adults in the 1960s.
The ‘educated-traveller’ celebrates life, human experience and our wonderful environment in a neutral and gentle fashion. This blog is not political, nor is it religious. Instead I like to think I encourage tolerance, enquiry, humility and authenticity. It is much more interesting and useful to consider what we have in common with other people, rather than to focus on what sets us apart.
I look forward to hearing from you and hearing your stories.
- With special thanks to my friend and artist Mary Lou Peters for the delightful water colour ‘Girl on a Bicycle’ For more about Mary Lou Peters click here – Mary Lou Peters – the artist
- For a portfolio of amazing travel experiences in Europe delivered by ‘The Educated Traveller’ check out our specialist travel company ‘Grand Tourist’ which has been writing and delivering Exceptional and interesting travel in Europe since 2006.
- Just to prove that life is not always sunshine and bunting why not read: Life’s not always a bed of roses
Notes on Robert Frost and Edward Thomas:
Robert Frost, American poet and Edward Thomas, British poet became friends in the early years of the 20th century. There took long walks in the English countryside together, observing nature and discussing issues of the day.
A poem that has profoundly influenced me is Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’…
Fellow poet, Edward Thomas wrote beautiful, bucolic poetry. Here is ‘Adlestrop’ one of the first of Thomas’ poems that I encountered. It is, in a way, a personal elegy to the English countryside. Published after Edward Thomas’ death in 1917:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat,
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name
And willows, willowherb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Edward Thomas 1917
This beautiful poem is about noticing and observing what is going on around us. Written by Thomas when he was in his thirties. Shortly afterwards he was killed at the Battle of Arras, one of many young men to lose their lives in the fields of Northern France during the First World War (1914-18). This poem and many more were published after his death thanks to the dedication of his wife Helen who worked tirelessly editing, organising and promoting his work.
So many stories to observe and think about. The ‘educated-traveller’ blog is just a start
A note on the author:
- Janet Simmonds (nee Panagakis) is a British-born tour guide, writer and company director. Born in Liverpool with a slightly Greek grand-father and a very Greek great grand-father she has a special affinity with the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Greece. Trained as a Geographer and Art Historian at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, Janet has spent most of her adult life running specialist travel companies and travelling extensively. Several times a year she leads small groups to different parts of the Mediterranean. Most recently to Southern Italy, Sicily and Venice. She writes about her travels and observations. www.educated-traveller.com
- Let’s face it life is more fun with a bicycle!