June 26, 2007

SIUC students travel to Greece, Italy

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. – From a rather worrisome ferry boat ride to seeing some of the most beautiful mosaics and structures in the world, a group of students and faculty lived it all during the recent Le Petit Grand Tour d'Architecture sponsored by the School of Architecture at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Jon Davey, 27-year professor of architecture at the University, and his SIUC alumna wife, Libby Spurlock Davey, accompanied eight SIUC students on an action-packed 24-day tour of Italy and Greece this summer.

This is the ninth educational European trip in a series that actually began 11 years ago. After living in Berlin and Amberg, Germany while serving in the Army, Davey and a friend spent a month traveling abroad upon discharge. He later returned for a three-month trek with his wife and the more he saw, the more he wanted to share the architecture, culture, art and experiences with SIUC students.

Inspired by Europe and all it has to show, Davey spearheaded creation of an intense annual trip to Europe. While the trip provides architectural studies credit, it is open to all.

"It's a different kind of learning experience," said Davey. "It's 24 hours a day. We talk architecture to design, culture to religion, philosophy to art. We can teach architecture but a two-dimensional slide can't show what it's really like. Here, they get to see it first-hand, to really experience it."

The trip isn't just about sightseeing though. The excursion incorporates the grand tour with modern technology. It's an interactive learning experience during which students keep journals, take digital photographs and compile individualized portraits of their trip. During the earlier tours, Davey notes there were no cyber cafes and downloading overseas was often difficult and time-consuming using telephone lines. Advances in technology are apparent during more recent trips. Upon returning to the United States, the participants convert their journals into their very own web pages within the Web site www.siu.edu/~archtour/. Visitors to the site can already learn of past travels and Davey said journals, itineraries and more for the 2007 participants should be online soon, certainly by early August.

Each European tour is unique and although part of the itinerary is pre-determined for the group, Davey tries to incorporate additional jaunts that appeal to participants. For instance, a tour of the Ferrari factory was a must-do activity the year a racing buff was part of the group and a gondola ride and hike in the Alps were part of trip visiting Germany and Austria.

At the request of a geology graduate student, a stop at Santorini Island, Greece, included a crater tour where they picked up warm lava and swam in hot mud baths. The entrance to the stunning Blue Grotto on Greece's Isle of Capri is a tiny underwater hole and this year all of the SIUC trip participants made the swim through coral to view the luminous sea cave, Davey said.

"It's a very physically demanding trip," Davey said. "It's continuous. It's a little like Outward Bound," referring to the educational outdoor adventure camps.

Tour participants take in all of the sights at each location, create watercolors and sketches, take pictures, learn history and architectural details, and more. Two new experiences thrilled participants of the May 17-June 10, 2007 tour, Davey said. Just 360 people are allowed each day to view acclaimed pieces such as Bernini's Apollo and Daphne at Rome's Villa Borghese and the SIUC group was able to do so. In addition, they observed some of the world's most beautiful mosaics at Ravenna, Italy. Their Italian sights also included beautiful Byzantine era churches and mausoleums, Davey said.

Each day is unique. When the group connected with an SIUC architecture program graduate, an invitation to a lavish Greek wedding resulted. Then there was the voyage from the Isle of Capri to Naples when rough seas forced cancellation of jet boats. The subsequent ferry ride, Davey said, was truly a "Poseidon adventure." There were also inconveniences such as nighttime naps on couches in the port at Carfu, Greece, when they arrived at 2:30 a.m., and an unfavorable dollar-to-Euro exchange rate.

Yet, Davey said the Le Petit Grand Tour d'Architecture is an incredible, exciting and educational opportunity to fully experience the images and cultures of Europe. Some students were partial to the social scene of Greece while other academics favored Italy and its artistry. The online journals are as unique as the students themselves. Some provide extensive detail about the historic sites and significant architecture they see, while others present a more personal diary of their travels.

Joining Davey on the summer 2007 trip, listed by hometown with majors included, were:

• Arthur: Clayton R. Herschberger, architectural studies.

• Aurora: John R. Duy, geography and environmental resources.

• Hoffman Estates: John E. Maher, architectural studies.

• Marion: Mary Ann Boyt Mohr, music.

• Moline: Nichole M. Fisher, political science.

• Morton: Russell D. Baker, architectural studies.

• Mount Vernon: Libby Spurlock Davey, alumna.

• Petersburg: Laura K. Dale, management.

• Sterling: Lynn H. Spotts, psychology.