cultural tours

Meet Giugliano

Photo:  Lauren Farkas

It was our first time to visit the Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra. We had become well familiar with other towns such as San Gimigniano, Sienna, and Monterigione, but we had somehow missed Volterra until we heard Rick Steves recommend it.

We found ourselves in front of a 2,500-year-old Etruscan gate and fascinated by a compelling story of saving the town from Nazi destruction during World War II, as told to us by our tour guide. But I had noticed something out of the corner of my eye: we had passed a small doorway on the steep street, out of which came a chink-chink-chink sound. In the window were a small number of alabaster sculptures and trinkets.

In addition to the distinction of being one of the earliest visitable towns from the ancient Etruscan civilization, Volterra is also a center of alabaster, a soft, light-colored, translucent stone mined in the area. Volterra is filled with shops containing beautiful alabaster creations, from simple items such as decorative wine stoppers and coasters to large, elaborate sculptures.

But this little workshop caught my eye for some reason, so I stopped to peek inside. There was an elderly gentleman working away at his bench, amidst a decades-old clutter of alabaster fragments and finished products. I had to meet this man. There were too many stories in that place for me to just walk on.

His name is Giuliano (pron. Juliano) and he is well into his 90’s. Two things about him struck me immediately: he looks much younger than his age, and his hands! His hands seemed huge in proportion to the rest of his slender, fit body, like MicheIangelo’s David’s — and they were as white as the alabaster he has been working most of his life. I asked if he minded my asking him some questions, and he welcomed me in with no questions asked. He has been working with alabaster for…wait for it…75 years. He was there during that Nazi threat, he was there during the Mussolini days, and he has been there since Tuscany became such a sought-after tourist destination.

A few weeks later, when my wife and I brought one of our tour groups to Volterra, I couldn’t wait to introduce them to Giugliano and hear some of his stories. I popped my head in to greet him. He was as cordial as ever, but it became quickly evident that he didn’t remember our conversation just weeks earlier. No matter, I thought — if he’s still willing to talk to us, we will still enjoy hearing him talk about his beloved home town and his craft. Since his shop is too small to fit more than three or four people, Giugliano came and stood in his doorway while I made my best attempt at interpreting his Italian into English for our group.

Since then, we have taken four more tour groups to Volterra, and you can bet we made it a point to stop and see Giugliano. And no, he doesn’t remember me from one time to the next. But he remains such a delightful person to talk to, and this way we can be sure that he doesn’t tire of answering our questions!

People like Giugliano are what makes travel such a deeply human experience. It’s one thing to admire the stunning Tuscan countryside and wander the quaint streets of towns like Volterra; it’s quite another to meet real people who are among the 12,000 who make their home there, to hear their stories and get a glimpse into how they see the world. You can be sure you’ll come away changed in some small way.

Announcing the 2019 World to the Wise cultural tour!

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Summer 2019 Tour

GREECE +ITALY + FRANCE!

Plans are already underway for the 2019 World to the Wise Cultural Tour, which promises to be as packed full of adventures as any tour in the past! We will begin with a brief visit to the ancient land of Greece, cradle of Western civilization. We’ll then head to one of our favorite countries, Italy. We just can't get enough of its incredible mix of history, beauty, culture...and food!

We'll also spend time in another non-negotiable destination: Paris. Not only do we see the highlights the city is famous for, we also discover some little known nooks and crannies, plus a day trip to one of France’s most treasured cultural landmarks. (Shh!)

If you’re interested in getting in on the action, just leave your name and email address below to receive information updates.

Announcing the 2018 World to the Wise Cultural Tour

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Big news! We have decided to include GREECE as our first destination of the 2018 World to the Wise Cultural Tour! As you may know, Becky and I have had the opportunity to spend time there the last two summers, primarily in the context of the international refugee crisis. We fell in love with Athens and with many of the people we met, and we're looking forward to introducing our tour participants to one of the world's most ancient civilizations. Are you one of those?

This tour is open to the public, although it will primarily be students and some parents. Students under the age of sixteen must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

In addition to visiting the ancient sites in Athens, our time in Greece will also include a day trip to the ancient city of Corinth as well as a cruise to one of the fabled Greek islands.

From Athens we'll fly to Rome, where we'll kick off an 8-day adventure through one of the most popular destination countries of our tour alumni.

We'll finish the tour in Paris. How can we not?

For detailed information on the tour, including pricing and dates, click here.

To register for the tour, click here.

Not ready to commit but want to stay updated? Just leave your email address in the form below!

An Unforgettable Journey

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It was our privilege at World to the Wise Cultural Tours to partner recently with Journey Arts Collective in Brentwood, Tennessee to create a very special experience for a group of ten creatives from the greater Nashville area.

Led by Australian Brett Mabury, whose home town of Perth is where I started school as a five-year-old, the Journey group consisted of writers, poets, photographers, songwriters and musicians. At each stop along the two-week journey, Brett had prepared meditations and exercises for reflection that enhanced the already impacting experience of some of Europe's richest sights.

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We began the adventure in Paris. Yes, we did take in many of the obligatory landmarks, but we also left space in the schedule for the travelers to explore on their own -- or sit and reflect or create. Our time also included a day trip to the Norman village of Giverny, where renowned impressionist painter Claude Monet made his home and painted his famous gardens for 43 years. We also enjoyed an evening with other creatives from the Paris area who are part of their own arts collective called La Fonderie.

Next stop was Lausanne, Switzerland, where I lived on two separate occasions for a total of six years. The weather that greeted us was unusually, incredibly mild and sunny, and we couldn't resist spending time by Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the Lausannois). Over a traditional Swiss fondue in a restaurant overlooking the

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lake and the Alps beyond, my good friend Luc Zbinden shared with the group a little about Swiss culture and the challenges facing today's Switzerland. The next evening was spent with yet another group of creatives, this time hosted by Psalmodia, a music school with multiple locations in Switzerland and France and where I taught voice at one time.

We then made our way by train to the Italian region of Tuscany, a land that has become dear to my wife and me over the years. We base ourselves at a retreat center a half hour's drive west of Florence, hosted by the Ammirabile family and the caretaker, Luca. Staying here in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, with home cooked meals and warm conversation, affords an experience that is simply not possible staying in a hotel in a city where we know no one. We make day trips to places like Pisa, the Tuscan hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano, and of course the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Florence. Whether taking in the artistic genius of the Renaissance artists or simply admiring the Florentine sunset over the Arno River from the overlook at Piazzale Michelangelo, one comes away with few words and lots of sighs.

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Announcing the 2017 World to the Wise Cultural Tour

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My wife, Becky, and I started a company around 2010 called World to the Wise. The mission statement of the organization is to promote and foster cultural curiosity by exposing people to other cultures and perspectives. This includes not only telling compelling stories, but taking people to other places! Summer of 2010 saw our first World to the Wise cultural tour, where we visited the UK, France, and the Netherlands. Since then, we have conducted two more tours to Italy, France, and the UK. We keep the groups relatively small in order to maximize the experience. Public transportation is used wherever possible in order to give our participants a feel for everyday life in the respective places. And wherever possible, we introduce our American friends to our local European friends. We believe that our perspective is impacted as we broaden our horizons and look at life from someone else's point of view.

This year's tour will be similar to the 2015 tour, with the addition of a couple of days in Amsterdam between Paris and London. The best way to stay informed is to sign up on the form at the bottom of this page.  We won't wear out your inbox, but you WILL be the first to hear about future life-changing cultural tours!

Read about our last tour here, and check out the World to the Wise Facebook page!

Download the information/registration packet here: Info-reg. packet 2017

To secure a spot on the tour, all we need from you is the registration form (see packet) filled out and sent in with your $100 registration fee. The timeline and checklist for the rest are included in the info packet.

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Purpose: to broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of the world we live in by discovering the peoples, cultures and histories of other lands. Dates: Italy May 31-June 8 (depart US on Tuesday, May 30) Paris June 8-13 (*depart US on Friday, June 7) Amsterdam June 13-17 (*depart US on Wednesday, June 12) * and London June 17-21. It is an option to join us for individual locations except Amsterdam. We will begin in Rome and end up in London. We promise you won’t forget this trek through four of the most enchanting countries in Europe! (NOTE: There is a minimum of 10 participants needed for each leg of the tour to make. As of this writing, Italy and Paris are happening for sure; Amsterdam and London still to be confirmed.)

ITALY – Who hasn’t dreamed of roaming the Tuscan countryside, marveling at Michelangelo’s David, the famous Duomo (cathedral) and the other treasures of Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance? Or relaxing on a Roman terrazzo, imagining the days of the gladiators while standing in the Coliseum, and gazing up at the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel? Or sampling a different gelato flavor every day? Or making such fast friends with our Italian friends that you won’t want to leave? Eight days in Italy.

PARIS – Often called the Pearl of Europe and the City of Lights, this gem has probably inspired more songs and literature than any other city. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre with its sidewalk artists, the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées…not to mention the obligatory sidewalk cafés, croissants, pastries, baguettes, cheese… (Oops, got a little side-tracked there.…) We’ll include a day trip to Monet’s gardens in Giverny. And we’ll enjoy a meal with some Parisians who might surprise you with their openness and friendliness! Four full days in Paris plus a travel day.

AMSTERDAM -- One of the most charming cities in all of Europe, Amsterdam has a character all its own. Take a boat ride on the city’s intricate canal system while admiring the quaint elegance of the 17th and 18th century houses. Visit the home of the intrepid Anne Frank or take in the works of Vincent van Gogh or the renowned Dutch Masters. Then get away from the city on a bike ride through the polders, the land famously reclaimed from the sea by Dutch ingenuity. And discover the meaning of “gezelligheid” or coziness to the max. Three nights in Amsterdam.

LONDON – Many Americans have the feeling of coming home when they discover this land that is the mother country to many of our ancestors. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Tube, the River Thames, cream tea, shortbread, meat pies, homes of some of English literature’s greats, and an unforgettable day trip to Oxford, including a meal at the pub where Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings spent so many hours! Four full days plus a travel day.

Just download the registration packet here. A $100 registration fee will save your spot until the $600 deposit is due Feb. 24. All details can be found in the registration packet. All you need to do at first is fill out the registration form in the packet and send it in with your registration fee. The liability release form, etc. can wait until your trip has been confirmed.

Not sure but wanting to receive updates? Just leave us your email address in the form below!

Questions? Email us at admin@worldtothewise.net.

Europe here we come!

A Gift from the Past

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It seems each time my wife and I take a group to Europe, even though we visit many of the same places each time, there's always some new surprise that awaits us. Earlier this month, World to the Wise partnered with Journey Arts Collective to take 12 creatives to visit some of the world's greatest art, as well as meet local creatives and take time to reflect on their observations. After five full and rich days in Paris, we boarded the TGV (high speed train) for Lausanne, Switzerland, where we barely spent twenty-four hours before heading to Tuscany. Two special events were waiting for us: an evening with over 50 creatives from French-speaking Switzerland, including many old friends of mine from the six years I lived there; and the next morning, a private tour of the 800-year-old Lausanne cathedral.

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A historian acquaintance of mine in Lausanne arranged this treat with the docent of the cathedral, a welcoming woman named Myriam. Twelve of us spent the next hour and a half in wonder as we were led first through the underground remains of the Romanesque church that originally occupied the site -- an area closed to the public. Myriam then led us around the nooks and crannies of the main level, and we ended up in the upper levels overlooking the nave, up close to the massive, world class organ.

Imagine you are a master craftsman such as a stone mason or a sculptor. You spend your entire career working on by far the most grandiose structure your city has seen or ever will see. And yet you  are fully aware that you will never see the finished fruit of your labors. This cathedral took 105 years to build in all its stages.

I've visited many cathedrals in my travels, but never I have I been given the gift of winding through corridors, up ancient staircases and ducking under beams where relatively few people have been. It was almost like being invited by the craftsmen themselves to admire their handiwork up close -- 800 years after they labored to produce it.

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Register now for the 2015 Cultural Tour!

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Lift Off

It's not too early to be planning to join us for the 2015 World to the Wise Cultural Tour! We have a treasure trove of memories waiting for you to create -- from ancient Rome to the sensory delights of Tuscany, from the amazing mazes of Venice to the timeless thrills of Paris, from the gardens of Monet to the cultural feasts of London -- there is something for everyone. Tentative dates have been set for June 2-23 for the entire tour, but it is possible to participate in one or two of the three legs of the tour. NOTE: Dates to be confirmed in the next two weeks.

Get more info here:

2015 Tour info sheet

Registration Packet

We already have quite a sizable number people who have expressed interest in the tour, so don't wait too long -- there is a limit of 20 people per tour. Students under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.