At the top of a mountain in the Italian Alps, I am running through the imperfect tense of the verb "to be" in Latin. eram, eras, erat, eramus, eratis, erant. The words are embedded in my memory, but it is difficult not to be distracted by the sight of rolling snow-covered mountains and colourful skiers all around me. My student writes out a verb table into his workbook, while plates of steaming pasta and delicious fried cheese balls are placed in front of us: our brain food. We are here for a week, and, in between teaching lessons, I am making the most of my time in this quaint mountain village, taking snowboarding lessons (I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie, so this is a real break out of my comfort zone), drinking my weight in thick Italian hot chocolate and exploring the cobbled streets surrounding our hotel.
As a homeschool travelling tutor between 2015 and 2018, I followed my two students and their family around the world, teaching lessons anywhere and everywhere. I used our locations as a basis for projects, and had my mind opened to the flexibility of world schooling. As I enriched the boys' lives by improving their English skills, their knowledge of the ancient languages, and their ability to excel in examinations, so my life was enriched, in turn, by the constant travel, the new places and cultures which we visited along the way.
In this post, I will talk about some of my travel experiences as a tutor, and give other world schoolers, home educators or travel hungry readers an insight into some of the best places to visit in each of these locations.
As part of their Cold War studies, my students learned about the Berlin Wall and its division of Germany. As we were based in Europe, and free of the constraints of normal school term dates, it was easy to arrange a short trip to this wonderful historical city, to link with the boys' History lessons.
Topography of Terror - An incredibly moving and thought-provoking outdoor museum, on the site of the old SS and Gestapo HQ. This is not for the faint-hearted, but my students (teenagers) were fascinated by the exhibits and overwhelmed by the gravitas which a place like this possesses.
Allied Museum - This museum had some great information on the Berlin Airlift, which was a particular focus for my students' examination questions. It had some great interactive exhibits and opportunities to get up close and personal with the Checkpoint Charlie guard post and an RAF aeroplane.
Checkpoint Charlie - The best-known border crossing point is still "guarded" by soldiers, and I found the details there very impressive: the flags, the replica of the famous sign and outfits worn by the soldiers, which were reflective of the 1960s.
East Side Gallery - Here you can see the longest surviving section of the Wall (1.3km long). Standing on the banks of the River Spree, looking into its murky depths and considering the desperate people who lost their lives in its waters while trying to swim for freedom, my trip to Berlin found its most emotive point. To be present amongst such important remnants of history certainly had an effect on my students, and really brought home the significance of learning about events from the recent past.
As a classicist and self-confessed History nerd, I have always wanted to visit the ancient sites in Athens, and, with my eldest student learning about Greek Art and Archaeology, I had my opportunity. With breath-taking architecture and sculptures at every turn, not to mention the copious amounts of Greek cheese consumed during our trip, I was in my element in Athens.
The Acropolis, and the Acropolis Museum - It would be unfathomable to go to Athens without visiting the wondrous Acropolis, with its gigantic Parthenon and views of Athens to die for. Unfortunately, on our visit, the Parthenon was heavily scaffolded, but its beauty and majestic size were still clear to see. For any student studying Ancient History or Classical Civilisation, a trip to the Acropolis is the best way to get an impression of the scale of Pericles' building program. My advice is to follow up a morning on the Acropolis with a trip to its nearby museum. The statues retaining their original pigments are simply astounding, and there are no words to describe the beauty of the Parthenon Frieze, displayed in a huge room flooded with natural light; we spent at least an hour with that exhibit alone.
2. National Archaeological Museum - From the minute we stepped inside this impressive museum and were greeted by larger than life kouroi sculptures, which we had been studying, my students' jaws dropped. These ancient sculptures are displayed in a way which really captured their imagination, and they were able to explore every angle, every curve and every line of detail. A big museum, you could easily spend all day here (at least, I could), and it is easy to see why it has been described as one of the greatest museums in the world.
3. Athens War Museum - A huge collection of guns, canons, flags, ammunition and medals can be found at this slightly out of town museum. Along with its indoor collections, there are also a number of vehicles displayed outdoors which are very impressive to see. We read about the history of the Greek military and my students were particularly interested in the section on Alexander the Great. Although the prospect of visiting a museum filled with weapons did not initially appeal to me, I was pleasantly surprised!
It was my second visit to this area, after taking a Classics trip with 42 pupils during my time working at a private school in Glasgow. That said, there is always something new to see around the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and I can never get enough of walking through those historic Italian streets.
1. Mount Vesuvius - The mountain which changed the coastline of Italy, and shaped the fate of Pompeii and its surrounding towns forever. You can reach a certain elevation by car or tour bus, and the final section is a steep but manageable climb up to the crater. Looking down into the huge, smoking crevice is fascinating, and if you pick a good day, the views across the Gulf of Naples are incredible.
2. Pompeii (the ancient site) - Anyone who has studied the Cambridge Latin Course is surely desperate to visit Caecilius' house, right? Visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii is interesting, entertaining, horrifying and, at time, emotional. Who can fail to be touched by the sight of the plaster casts of the doomed inhabitants (and if you're like me, you will find the mangled dog particularly sad)? The brothel and random phalluses adorning the walls and ground also provided a point of humour for my students; the graphic pictures in the old brothel house and seeing the uncomfortable-looking stone beds really brought the experience to life. Every place we entered, my students found photo opportunities, whether it was a beautifully preserved wall-painting, the amazing amphitheatre or intricately carved grave markers.
3. Herculaneum (the ancient site) - Call me a traitor to Pompeii, but I actually prefer looking around Herculaneum, the place which was destroyed by pyroclastic flow during the 79AD eruption. The preserved mosaics cannot fail to take your breath away, but, for me, the most impactful moment is when you catch sight of the numerous skeletons in the boat houses. These people hid in a place which they thought would be safe, and met their grisly end cowering together with their possessions. It is easy to see their pained expressions, and the reality of the 79AD destruction really hits home.
4. Naples National Archaeological Museum - Many artefacts from Pompeii are contained within this museum, and you could easily get lost for hours amongst the collections. The Alexander the Great Mosaic from the House of the Faun was a particular highpoint, but my students loved the many enormous wall paintings and sculptures taken from Pompeian houses to be preserved in the museum. For any students studying Latin or Ancient History, this museum is guaranteed to be a delight.
1. Victoria Peak - I travelled up to the highest point on Hong Kong Island with my tutor colleague, and we were lucky to pick a relatively clear day, meaning the view across the city was amazing. The journey up on the Peak Tram is a little nerve-racking, crammed in amongst hundreds of other tourists and pressed back against your seat as you climb upwards into the sky. It's not helped by the Peak Tram Illusion, which makes the buildings seem hugely tilted and the climb even steeper than it is in reality. But it's all worth it when you reach the top. It was nice to be amongst what felt like the countryside, with walks amongst the trees accompanied by a vast array of wildlife. The history buff in me enjoyed the Historical Gallery, with information about the initial tramways and haulage system. For those more interested in retail therapy, there are also a good range of shops at the Peak, selling the usual array of tourist souvenirs as well as clothes, watches and jewellery. If you're not afraid of heights, this is a must-visit.
2. Flagstaff House Tea Museum - Located in the grounds of Hong Kong Park, this is a beautiful example of Greek Revival architecture in the city. Offering a reminder of Hong Kong's colonial heritage, the Tea Museum houses a large amount of interesting tea ware (including cups in the shape of animals!), along with Chinese seals (the stamp things, not the animals).
3. Happy Valley Racecourse - I'm not one for horse-racing, nor am I much of a gambler, but a weekly visit to the Hong Kong Races became a staple of my stay on the island. The atmosphere was almost intoxicating, and the wide variety of visitors (expats, natives, and tourists) made Wednesday evenings a great opportunity to people-watch. By the end of my trip I was attempting to use up my last Hong Kong Dollars, and dared to have a flutter on a couple of horses (alas, I actually won back more dollars on both occasions)!
4. Tian Tan Buddha - Such an impressive sight and a great photo opportunity, if you can make it without being scared away by very over-friendly cows and dogs which wander around at the bottom of the steps, hoping for some food from generous tourists. There are 268 steps and the Buddha measures 34 metres, so I instantly felt tiny as I walked around the base, admiring the surrounding lotus sculptures. Slightly morbid perhaps, but I also enjoyed looking at the Hall of Remembrance located inside of the Buddha, which contained some intricately decorated memorials to Hong Kong natives long deceased.
5. Tai O Fishing Village - Lured by the promise of spotting some pink dolphins on a boat trip around this area (I didn't), we headed out to the western coast of Lantau Island. I was mesmerised at the sight of the traditional stilt houses, and found it fascinating to walk the streets and experience the friendly nature of the residents, despite their lack of secure accommodation and possessions. A particular highlight was watching a shopkeeper try to keep hold of several slippery, thrashing fish as she transferred them from one container to another.
A Hidden Treasure (Avenches)
We visited this small Swiss town on our journey back from a longer trip, and I loved the French feeling of the place. For a small place, it has a particularly impressive Roman amphitheatre, which is testament to Avenches' significant history. Formerly known as Aventicum, this place was the capital of Roman Helvetia, founded by the Emperor Augustus 2000 years ago. I recommend eating at one of the lovely French-style restaurants in the nearby streets, and topping off a nice lunch with a visit to the amphitheatre; it is usually quiet, as it is not one of the more popular historical sites.
I will always be grateful for the travel which I did in these three years. While I was very young and had no ties, the constant flights, train journeys and changes of location were something I relished. Now a British expat living in the Netherlands, and working as an online teacher with my own tuition and consultancy business, I am happier to stick to travel just for holidays and visiting my family back in the U.K.
But yesterday I still saw the sun set in Shanghai. Only this time it was from the comfort of my computer desk, while my young Chinese student completed an English comprehension paper via Skype. Once a traveller, always a traveller.
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