Geography Education Trip to Italy, October 2019

On Friday 25th October 2019, 21 pupils and two members of staff departed Antrim Grammar School on a Geography trip to Rome and Sorrento. For the pupils, the trip would allow them to consolidate material that had been taught in class by experiencing it ‘in the field’. 

A mid-morning arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport allowed the group time to acclimatise to Italy’s more sedate pace of life. Dr Finlay used a little artistic licence and paraphrased the travel advice of two early Christian saints by informing us that “when in Rome… eat gelato…” Few ignored his wise words and so began our four days of La dolce vita.     

After a leisurely lunch, we visited the Vatican museums. The highlight was our visit was the Sistine Chapel and seeing the beautiful artwork, which includes the large fresco of The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, and wall paintings by several leading painters of the late 15th century including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino, along with a set of large tapestries by Raphael. A four-hour coach journey took us south through Naples and we hugged the Amalfi coast on our way into the picturesque town of Sorrento.

On Saturday morning, we took the local ferry to the beautiful Island of Capri, where the celebrity yachts moored in the Marina Grande hinted that they knew something we were yet to find. The pupils sought out a tour company that allowed them to take a boat trip around the island, where they were able to see the towering arches and stacks that dominate the coastline. The water was so clear that it had to be seen to be believed. Back on dry land we took the funicular railway into the town centre where pupils had the chance to (window) shop in the range of high-class shops including those owned by Gucci, Fendi and Swarovski. After getting the hydrofoil back to Sorrento, we finished the evening with a visit to a local farm where we learned about the traditional techniques used to make mozzarella cheese, followed by a tasting session.

On day three we travelled to Vesuvius where we all took the opportunity to climb to the edge of the crater of this active volcano. Indeed, we could smell the sulphurous odour of the gases as they escaped from the fumaroles. In the afternoon we journeyed to the partially buried Roman town of Pompeii – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide, Michele, took us on a fascinating tour of the complex, explaining how the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 had buried the town under 4 to 6m of ash and pumice. An educational but never macabre site, the surprise was just how well the original town has been preserved, to the extent that one can still see the grooves in the roads cut by Roman chariots. That night the group went bowling in Sorrento. A report of the evening would include skill levels ranging from those who got strike after strike through to some being reminded that the aim was to have as few pins as possible left after each attempt…

On our last day, returning to Rome once again, we embarked on an afternoon’s tour of the ancient city. Our guide, Alessandro, took us first to the Colosseum, a quintessential symbol of Roman culture. We then walked to one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, the Roman Forum. While much of the site has been destroyed, we were still able to view the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Basilica di Massenzio, and the Arch of Titus.

As we departed Rome for the airport, the pupils had a chance to reflect on their experience. ‘Educating for life’ is something that Antrim Grammar School promotes and it was clear that the pupils had gained tremendous life skills from the trip. Additionally, the ability to explore Geography in a foreign country undoubtedly enriched their academic understanding. As teachers, we would like to take this opportunity to commend the pupils on their high standard of behaviour, good manners, and enthusiasm in engaging with all Rome and Sorrento had to offer. It was a pleasure to accompany you.