The Educated Traveller – is a blog about travel, people, places, food, wine, geography, history and art. It is about appreciating our environment, our daily lives and the people we meet…
A note on the author – Janet Simmonds (nee Panagakis) is a British-born tour guide, writer and travel company owner. Born in Liverpool with a slightly Greek grand-father and a very Greek great grand-father she has a special affinity with the history, culture and art of the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Greece. She studied Geography and Art History 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 Europe. Most recently to Venice and the Veneto, Sicily, Naples and Basilicata. She writes about her travels and observations on this blog: www.educated-traveller.com . Her specialist travel company Grand Tourist offers unique, tailor-made travel for individuals, couples and small groups. The web site is www.grand-tourist.com
With special thanks to friend and artist Mary Lou Peters for this delightful water colour. For more about Mary Lou Peters click here – Mary Lou Peters – the artist
THE EDUCATED TRAVELLER
My name is Janet Simmonds. I was born in England in 1960. I am a writer, thinker, tour guide, linguist and humanitarian. My first degree was in Geography at Oxford University, later I went back to the academic world and did a Master’s in the History of Art. I’ve made my career starting and running very high quality, exceptional travel companies. I’m an expert in Italy, France, The Alps and Mediterranean region. I’m passionate about Venice and the Veneto, especially the Palladian villas of the Veneto region and the watery expanses of the Venetian lagoon. I adore being on the road, especially in Italy – riding my bike, working as a tour guide or driving my car!
I love the South of France too and usually spend the summer months visiting Provence, Cote d’Azur and the wonderful French Alps. I’m fascinated by nature and our natural environment, recently I took the train in Chamonix up to the Mer de Glace, France’s longest glacier. It is possible to walk inside the glacier, to see the ice and to marvel at this incredible phenomenon of ice, snow and rock. A few months earlier I hiked to the base of the Eiger Glacier in Switzerland, I wanted to see it, appreciate it’s size and fully experience the enormity of the mountains.
INSPIRATION – WG Sebald, the writer, has been a massive inspiration to me. Sebald was born in Germany and came to live in England in the early 1960s. He wrote a wonderful book called ‘The Emigrants’ about people leaving Germany in the years after the Second World War and how they dealt with the events in their homeland during those years. Later Sebald wrote a book called ‘The Rings of Saturn’ where he walks from his home in Norwich through East Anglia and discusses what he sees. He ponders on the decaying country houses, assorted villages and interesting characters that he encounters or remembers as he walks. His style is both factual and somehow dreamy too. Similar in a sense to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the magical realism of Latin American authors. He writes in a gentle monologue, that reminds me of the philosophical meanderings of Rousseau. I strongly recommend both books.
FIVE YEARS OF BLOGGING – At the end of 2014 I began to write and to start recording the experiences I have had over the years. I started the www.educated-traveller.com blog to share these ‘pieces’, these ‘articles’ with readers. I regard myself as a true ‘European’ I feel that I belong equally in Venice, Rome, Tuscany, Basilicata or Sicily. When I travel I don’t want to be a tourist I want to feel like a local. Which is interesting because I don’t want to actually be a local in the sense that I stay in that one place – I just want to feel like one. There is a difference. I like to think that I travel with authenticity, observing how people live, reporting back on what I see. Two years ago I wrote a piece about The Biennale in Venice – and Lorenzo Quinn’s fantastic sculpture ‘Support’ consisting of two enormous white hands rising from the waters of the Grand Canal. Last month I was writing about The Grand Tour and the way the early tourists travelled across The Alps. Crossing the Alps – Grand Tourist style
LIBRARIES – I’ve also written about libraries, and how for me the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford has always been a very special place – a place of great calm and peace ‘A Sanatorium for the mind’ I started writing at the wonderful Gladstone Library in North Wales. Gladstone’s Library is a place of inspiration, learning and serenity. It was established by William Gladstone who was prime minister of Britain several times during the reign of Queen Victoria. As his life drew to a close he moved his personal library of books from his home at Hawarden Castle, to the village of Hawarden, for all to enjoy. The story is delightful, it is said that Gladstone and his valet moved the books from the castle to the village in a wheel barrow. I love the charitable ethos of the library, the not-for-profit status. For me it is a magical place. There is a scholarly air that pervades every inch of the building. Retired clerics come to research arcane elements of theological texts or labour for years on a re-interpretation of the letters of St Paul to the Corinthians. At a more practical level, they also have a brilliant cafe – appropriately named ‘Food for Thought!’ I have a penchant for their chocolate chip cookies.
BOOKS – At the library I like to read, write and think. I’m similar to the character in ‘Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance’ constantly analysing my thoughts, motives and actions. I find myself obsessed with quality and the consideration of gumption. These are two of Robert M Pirsig’s perennial themes from his best selling philosophy book of the 1970s. I suppose my preoccupation is with living the best life I can possibly live, not just for myself but for those around me. Last year my family and I moved to Oxford. This has been a period of transition for me. I am writing several times a week. I also run a specialist travel company, writing and organising itineraries for British and American clients travelling in Europe – especially Italy, Greece and The Alps. I like to reflect my love of languages, culture, history, geography and art in my writing, tour guiding and itinerary preparation. My company is called ‘Grand Tourist’ and I take my inspiration from the courageous travellers of the 17th and 18th centuries, when getting over The Alps was no easy matter!
PEOPLE – I write about places and people that interest me. For example, Lorenzo Quinn the talented artist responsible for the art installation ‘Building Bridges’ that is on display in Venice at the moment. Quinn is the youngest son of the actor Anthony Quinn and is doing some very original and thought provoking work. He is a very talented sculptor.
I’ve also been inspired recently by the ladies at Villa Angarano, my favourite vineyard in the Veneto. Here a family of five sisters are producing really good quality wines from their magnificent Palladian villa. They offer really professional and fun wine-tastings that I’d strongly recommend. Their white Vespaiola wine has recently won a Silver Medal, deservedly, in an international wine competition.
One day I might be writing about Hisham’s Palace, located in the desert of the West Bank, close to the archaeological ruins of Jericho, part of modern day Israel or Palestine – depending on your point of view. Whilst the next I might be writing up notes about the Greek Temples at Paestum, south of Naples. I mustn’t forget the incredible Mandy Marshall and her Herdwick Hand Bags. Now this is a great story! From fleece to handbag without injuring a single sheep…. For details and links to all these articles please look at the end of this article.
These are just a few snapshots of my journey over the past two or three years. Join me and explore via my blog and feel free to comment, I’m always interested to hear everyone’s point of view.
- Click here for more on: Venice – Lorenzo Quinn, Damien Hirst and the Biennale
- For more on Hisham’s Palace – I suggest you read Jericho and Hisham’s Palace
- To learn more about the spectacular Greek Temples at Paestum, Southern Italy. Just have a glance at Benvenuti al Sud
- For ideas of exceptional journeys in Europe go to www.grand-tourist.com this is my specialist travel company – itineraries for individuals and tours for small groups.
- To learn more about Giovanna Bianchi Michiel at Villa Angarano – Villa Angarano – Palladio and the Villa of the five sisters For a private visit message me.
- You might also like my story of Mandy Marshall in the Lake District and her unique Herdwick Handbags Mandy Marshall and the Herdwick Handbags
- Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, observations, contributions.
- Janet at Educated Traveller
- By the way – any of the good photos of me are by Pete Corcoran – photographer extraordinario – others are by me and/or amateurs. He is a great photographer and a lovely guy. Here is Pete’s web site: Pete Corcoran
A LAST THOUGHT – Lorenzo Quinn’s ‘Building Bridges’ currently installed at the ‘MOSE’ construction site beyond the Arsenale. It’s a long way from Piazza San Marco but it’s worth it!
- For inspiration and a little bit of education why not explore the Educated Traveller blog – perhaps start with: Volcanoes and Earthquakes in Italy – Enjoy and most importantly – have fun!!
- For tailor-made travel in Italy check out www.grand-tourist.com
- Grand Tourist is our sister company and specialises in unique, tailor-made travel in Italy, The Alps, British Isles.
- Updated: June 2020
- Updated: February, 2021