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!

Evening vineyard.jpg

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

athens-city-by-night-300x200.jpg

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!

A Journey with Journey Arts

2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000354-300x225.jpg
2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000375-225x300.jpg

You may remember that October 2016 saw my wife and me leading a group of creatives from Journey Arts Collective to Europe. It was by all accounts a successful partnership. The Journey Arts leader, Brett Mabury, did a wonderful job of leading the group on a sort of reflective pilgrimage as we experienced some of the most inspiring sights Europe has to offer. We also discovered Brett makes a great co-leader and that we work well together. So last month he and I teamed up once again to lead a group of ten creatives, all from Journey Arts Collective, on a similar adventure. It was another great success, as we streamlined the itinerary here and there to make for more room to breathe and create. October is really a great time to travel in Europe, as the crowds are somewhat thinner and, at least in  Italy, the weather is more than pleasant. The weather in France and Switzerland even cooperated as well this time.Not only did we visit many of the iconic places you might expect, but we also spent time in almost every place with local creatives from Brett's and my network of friends and contacts. It's one thing to sight-see, quite another to actually connect with locals in a meaningful exchange.

2018 looks to have even more adventures in store, and one of them might just be right for you! Stay tuned for announcements! Better yet, leave your email address in the form below so you don't miss a thing!

2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000384-768x1024.jpg

An Unforgettable Journey

IMG_3952-300x225.jpg

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.

2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000354-300x225.jpg

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

2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000356-150x150.jpg

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.

2017-10-25-PHOTO-00000384-768x1024.jpg

A True Craftsman

Alabaster-craftsman.jpg

I didn't even catch his name.

But this gentleman left quite an impression on us, and I can't wait to see him again the next time we're in the Tuscan hill town of Volterra. We were making our way down a steep street toward an ancient Etruscan city gate when we saw him sitting outside his workshop. Both Becky and I were immediately drawn to his hands. They seemed unusually large and were white as alabaster. He has been working with this beautiful, porous stone for...wait for it...seventy years, and his hands have become a permanent reminder of his craft. He takes the four main colors of alabaster, mined in the surrounding hills for thousands of years, and carves figurines, eggs, wine stoppers, and more...all beautiful and worth their modest price. Volterra is considered the alabaster capital of the world, not to mention one of the most charming places I've been in all of Italy.

I engaged him in conversation, asking about his business, about the magical hilltop city he's lived in all his life...and he was only too happy to answer my questions.

If I am half that good-natured when I'm in my nineties, well, let's just say I'll be a joy to be around.

The next time we take a group to Volterra, you can be sure I'll get his name this time.

What You Can't Know About Your Country Until You Leave It

above-the-clouds-300x200.jpeg

My wife and I took a brief road trip last weekend. I like road trips except for one thing: I get so sleepy behind the wheel. Enter the audio book. This time we chose a book that had been mentioned by a good friend. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight takes place in Southern Rhodesia during the time the nation becomes Zimbabwe. Since Becky and I spent two months in Zimbabwe just five years after the war of independence, we were immediately taken back to those life-shaping experiences as we listened. This enabled us to stick with what others might find a bit of a sleepy read.

Author Alexandra Fuller recounts with an incisive style a childhood reminiscent of the American West, where tough, white pioneers make a life for themselves amid punishing conditions in a tumultuous time and no shortage of adversaries. Hers wasn't an easy childhood. But one thing jumped out at both Becky and me at the same time: when Alexandra left Africa for England for the first time, she realized there were certain things she couldn't know about Zimbabwe until she left. So true.

There are things you can't know about your home country until you leave it.

In my case:

You can't know people in the South really are friendly, for the most part, until you've lived somewhere else. (A friend from New Jersey pointed this out to me.)

You can't know there is more than one way to do things, like flush a toilet. Or dry your clothes.

You can't know everyone doesn't have a choice of 78 breakfast cereals at the supermarket.

You can't know that you live in a country where way too much is taken for granted, as if we deserved everything we have.

You can't know that, in spite of all the pettiness, the infantile political wrangling and the frenzied climate, we still have a system that has been one of the most spectacular success stories in history...

You can't know you live in a place the world envies, and marvels at, and sometimes shakes it head at, but pays attention to ...

...until you've left.

Then you come back and everything is the same -- except the way you see it.

How to Turn a Vacation into a Pilgrimage

peru-machu-picchu-001-300x169.jpg

What comes to mind when you hear the word "pilgrimage"? Trekking your way over rugged terrain to reach a shrine? Traveling thousands of miles to meet up with thousands of other pilgrims at a particular time of year? Perhaps. But what if any time you stepped out of your zone of familiarity could become a spiritual experience? Here are some real life examples:

Happening onto a painting at the Musée d'Orsay that touches something buried deep inside you and leaves you filled and wanting more at the same time.

Wandering the streets of a medieval Italian town and stumbling across a secluded garden that feels like it was reserved for you.

Coming across a serene, blue glacier in the most utter silence you've ever heard, with not another soul in sight.

Sitting surrounded by the world's most beautiful stained glass and wishing you could know the king who commissioned it as an act of worship.

Sitting at a table with new friends and wondering how you could possibly have been there for three hours.

Climbing an extinct volcano in New Zealand and appreciating the challenge of the climb as much as the vistas from the summit.

A conversation with a stranger whose kindness cuts through the outer crust of your heart. You come to find out that part of his name means "peace".

Marveling at the mysteries of a lost civilization that left behind the glorious ruins where you now stand.

Being invited to share the meager rations of a refugee family who has lost everything, destroying and rebuilding your notions of hospitality and humility.

All of these, which I have experienced first hand, make the term "sightseeing" sound so mundane, so small. When you step outside to experience something or some place new -- even if it is one of the most touristy spots on the planet -- there are surely divinely orchestrated moments waiting for you.

Especially if you're open to them.

They can be little serendipities, or they can be moments of transcendence that alter your understanding of God.

We're planning a framework for late spring where such moments are sure to find you. All you have to do is show up.

Want to know more? Click here.

Announcing the 2017 World to the Wise Cultural Tour

Eiffel jump
Eiffel jump

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.

Colosseum-4
Colosseum-4

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!

Cultivating Curiosity

Curious-Einstein.jpg

We are all born curious. Show me a baby who isn't drawn to shiny objects or who doesn't believe everything is intended to be put in the mouth. Then the baby becomes a toddler and all of a sudden the entire house has to be childproofed. Everything at eye level is fair game to be explored and often dismantled.

As a young child, I was a voracious reader. We were living in Australia, where, at least at the time, there was no kindergarten like we have in the US, and children started right into Grade 1 at the age of five. I was already reading when I started school in Perth, and I remember my teachers scrambling to keep me stocked with books. Seems I couldn't get enough.

As I've written and spoken about before, we moved back to the US halfway through my fourth grade year, and on the return trip my senses were assaulted by the sights and sounds of exotic lands and foreign tongues. Once again, I couldn't get enough.

Then something happened.

The thing is, I don't know what. Somewhere along the line -- perhaps it was puberty -- I lost my love of reading and the curiosity behind that love. Up to that point I remember loving to read about all kinds of things -- I was simply interested in the world and everything in it.

By my high school years my interests had narrowed to two main areas: music and foreign languages. I excelled in all my subjects, but some of them didn't require that much effort. I was indeed hungry to make progress in my two chosen areas, but I don't remember deriving much satisfaction from anything else.

I'm sorry to say my college years were not much different. Music and foreign languages still dominated my brain space (foreign language eventually gained the upper hand) -- along with an overactive social life.

I was well into my years living in Europe that I began to really notice things. To pay attention to a broader array of areas, such as world events and how they affect each other. Or how math and science cannot be entirely separated from, say, music or philosophy, or even theology. In fact, this growing sense that all things are somehow connected has become a driving force in (re)shaping my world view. And my fascination with how other cultures live and think plays right into this.

In this season of my life, I consider it not only an important aspect of my life, but a calling, to somehow create sparks that trigger curiosity in others -- especially curiosity about people from cultures or experiences unlike ours.

Regardless of your political persuasion or the outcome of the 2016 US elections, we all must admit that, now, more than ever, we are in great need of regaining and fostering cultural curiosity. Just as I allowed my mind to become dulled by who knows what -- teenage preoccupations, then too many college friends (yes, I think that's possible), we can as adults allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the familiar. Falling asleep in our own echo chamber.

Is it possible to make someone curious? Perhaps, perhaps not. But just as a parent provides toys, activities and games that appeal to the innate curiosity of a child, we can most certainly make things available to whet the imagination of those who are asleep...while continually feeding the imagination of those who are curious.

Season 2 of the World to the Wise podcast aims to do just that. Stay tuned! If you're already a subscriber, we would appreciate your taking a minute to write a brief review.

What adventures has your curiosity led you to?

Beyond Sightseeing

IMG_1035
IMG_1035

In my last two posts I've talked about the first ever partnership between World to the Wise cultural tours and Journey Arts Collective, where we took a group of thirteen creatives from the Nashville area to experience some of the magic of Western Europe. Not only did we have the privilege of introducing them to some of the world's greatest art and a couple of world class cities, but thanks to the leadership of Journey leader Brett Mabury, they were also led on a pilgrimage of sorts. Brett and I were introduced by a mutual friend some time in early 2015. He had been wanting to take creatives to Europe for years, and the mutual friend happened to know that's something my wife Becky and I do with World to the Wise. Brett and I began meeting together, and to his credit, he took a chance and asked Becky and me to help him put together a hopefully unforgettable experience for a dozen artists.

Sacré-Coeur_4b
Sacré-Coeur_4b

Brett is from Perth, Western Australia, where I happen to have lived for four years as a child. He is married to Keren, who is half Belgian and half Danish and grew up in Paris. The two met in Paris when Brett was studying music there on a fellowship. 

Upon our arrival in Paris, our first destination, each traveler was presented with a spiral-bound booklet Brett had personalized for each one, printing on the inside front page the sentence each person had written as their goal and expectation for this trip. The book contained a number of meditations Brett had put together, each one designed to be read at specific locations throughout our 12-day journey. Imagine the impact of sitting in a place of great artistic and historical significance, reading thoughts that both challenge and quiet your soul. Brett's thoughtful reflections included some of the history of each site we visited, and he used that as a springboard for taking the creative person to a place of introspection.

We were also intentional on this particular trip to connect this group of creatives with those of similar ilk in the cities we visited. In Paris, we drew not only on Brett's and my contacts, but also on those of my old friend Jim Beise, a creative catalyst who spent over a dozen years investing in creatives in Paris. We also had an unforgettable evening with creatives in our old stomping grounds of Lausanne, Switzerland. And we were treated to an outdoor concert on the Piazza San Lorenzo in Florence, where our friend Giorgio Ammirabile was featured directing and singing in front of his gospel choir. Not to mention the magic of the Tuscan countryside, where we stayed five nights, which is in itself a respite for the soul with its vineyards, olive orchards and gentle hills.

Ammirabile vineyard
Ammirabile vineyard

The result of all these experiences? Fifteen creatives (including Becky and myself) who came back not only having feasted on more beauty than can be described -- sometimes in unsuspecting places -- but also grew closer together than they ever expected, not to mention a greater and deeper sense of purpose.

Sign me up. Again.

A Gift from the Past

Nave
Nave

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.

IMG_1011
IMG_1011

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.

FullSizeRender-6
FullSizeRender-6
IMG_1019
IMG_1019
IMG_1066
IMG_1066
FullSizeRender-5
FullSizeRender-5
FullSizeRender-9
FullSizeRender-9

A Creative Journey

IMG_3177
IMG_3177
image1
image1

What happens when you put 15 creatives in the same plane, train, bus, or automobile for almost two weeks, where they are not just sightseeing but being asked to reflect, observe, and create? My wife Becky and I have just finished conducting the first ever tour where our company, World to the Wise, partnered with the Journey Arts Collective, led by Brett Mabury. A professional musician, composer and arranger, Brett also serves as a mentor of other artists to accompany them on their…well, journey. Journey Arts Collective seeks to gather creatives into a community – not unlike some of the creative communities in days gone by (the Lost Generation comes to mind), helping them counter isolation and spurring each other toward artistic and spiritual growth. A mutual friend introduced Brett and me a couple of years ago, and I learned that Brett had wanted to take artists to Europe for years. When he heard of the World to the Wise cultural tours Becky and I have been leading since 2010, Brett wondered if it might be a good fit to partner with us on what could potentially be the first of several such adventures.

One of the challenges of taking any group to some of the world’s most interesting places is planning the time in such a way that people take in a full palette of sights and experiences without becoming completely overwhelmed and exhausted. Jet lag is not our friend in this regard. So even though we didn’t packed in as much as we might normally on one of our World to the Wise tours, the time with JAC has been exhausting but exhilarating.

IMG_0952
IMG_0952

Brett’s intentionality about making this trip a pilgrimage and not just a sightseeing tour made every stop that much more meaningful. He had prepared a booklet for each participant containing exercises and reflections to be done at strategic points throughout each day. From Sacré Coeur cathedral to Notre Dame, from Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny to the Musée d’Orsay, each artist was enriched and challenged in his or her creative and meditative life while marveling at the amazing sights and sounds of Paris.

My long-time friend Jim Beise was also on the trip, doing what he has done for over 15 years: mentoring creatives. His nine years of experience and contacts in Paris made our time there that much more meaningful, as he arranged a number of get-togethers where our group was able to interact with local creative – which in Paris means a number of internationals as well, not just Parisians.

Coming soon – Part 2, where we are invited on a private tour of a 750-year-old cathedral to see things that are never open to the public!

New Year, New Zealand?

IMG_1598
IMG_1598

If you follow my blog, you know my wife and I had an unforgettable time in what for us was an almost magical time in New Zealand over the 2014-15 winter break (summer in New Zealand).

We are now gauging interest in a possible World to the Wise cultural tour to the Land of the Kiwi at the same time of year, winter break 2016-17. Take in the verdant countryside, visit Hobbiton, home of the Shire, take in some breathtaking scenery on the South Island, where many of the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were shot...and I could go on.

If you're interested in receiving information and updates on this trip OR the 2017 World to the Wise cultural tour to Europe (Italy, France, UK), just enter your email address below and you won't miss a thing!

Tell Me of Tuscany

Photo: Ben Scott
Photo: Ben Scott

My wife and I have had the pleasure of conducting a number of cultural tours to Europe, the most recent of which was this past June. We visit three of the world's greatest cities: Rome, Paris, and London. We see some of the finest art the world has ever known. We tread where kings and emperors trod. We see amazing performances. We shop in some of the best markets anywhere. We see sights many only dream of seeing. And yet, from the feedback we receive, our experience in Tuscany almost always rises to the top as the highlight of the three-week tour.

There are many reasons for this. Of all the phases of the 3-country tour, these days based half an hour outside Florence contain the most human contact with the local population. We are hosted by two wonderful families: the Ammirabile and Volle families. Our housing consists of newly renovated studio apartments overlooking the valley pictured above. (You could do worse than waking up to that every morning.) In between our day trips into Florence or to some of the "hill towns" of Tuscany, we share in experiences that are an inviting window into what appears to be an almost idyllic lifestyle.

Caty w oven
Caty w oven

Our good friend Caty (Caterina) heads up the meal preparation and offers lessons in Italian cuisine in the process. We enjoy some pretty delicious food throughout Europe, but everyone seems to agree that Caty's cuisine is the finest -- whether pizzas of all kinds baked in her outdoor oven with olive and other local woods, to pasta cooked just right or even simple bruschetta, every meal is a feast.

Giovanni2
Giovanni2
Grazia
Grazia

Perhaps it's how closely the Ammirabile family lives to the land that makes them so endearing. The family runs both a wine growing and an olive oil business, and one of the highlights of our time is the tour of the vineyards by Giovanni, the patriarch of the family. A committed Christian, Giovanni explains the role of the winegrower while alluding to Jesus' teachings on the vine and the branches. The man knows what he is talking about. He has been "pruned" himself more times than I know about -- and yet the sparkle in his eye as he talks about his vineyard indicates a faith that has survived his trials. His wife, Grazia, doesn't attract attention to herself but has a heart of gold.  

Even though food is not the focal point of our Tuscan adventure, it is surely the time spent at the table that stands out in our participants' memory. A welcome contrast to the too-often rushed American meal, it is often surprising to realize how long we've been lingering at the table, simply enjoying the moment, being together in such a pastoral setting.

Whatever the case, you can be sure these few days in the Tuscan countryside will be an ingredient of the World to the Wise cultural tours for years to come. Between the bustle of great cities like Rome and Venice, it is like landing in a bubble of peace and tranquility.

Ask anyone who has been with us and you will most likely be answered with a sigh.

Evening vineyard
Evening vineyard

The Magic of Unscripted Moments

Trastevere buskers
Trastevere buskers

A lot of planning goes into every World to the Wise cultural tour. An awful lot. But sometimes the best memories are made from unscripted moments. Like when you happen onto a pair of super talented street performers in the Trastevere area of Rome. (There are virtuosos on the streets of almost every major European city.) Or when you run into a new friend in Venice whom you had just met in Tuscany only days earlier. Or when you get an impromptu performance from a professional opera singer on a perfect night under the stars in the Tuscan countryside, celebrating the birthday of one of our participants, sitting around the fire pit singing old standards, and eating millefoglie cake by a local artisan baker.  

IMG_2894
IMG_2894
IMG_2896
IMG_2896
IMG_2899
IMG_2899

These are moments that cannot be orchestrated, when spontaneity and serendipity meet, and you have the distinct impression that heaven is smiling on you.

wading
wading

Like being handed two free bottles of locally produced wine, as the group leader, by the owner of your favorite gelateria in San Gimignano. Or discovering much in common with your Italian guide whom you only just met. Or even getting caught in the strongest hail storm you've ever seen (fortunately not the longest) and getting in the van just in time to remain mostly dry. Like happening onto a beautiful pond in the park on a hot Roman day and soaking your feet. (Until the mounted policemen ride up and ask you to get your feet out of the water.)

IMG_2154
IMG_2154

Or walking into a glorious 700-year-old basilica in Barcelona, enjoying the classical guitarist playing at the front and discovering that you are an invited guest at a wedding. You catch a photo of the radiant bride just steps away from you as she makes her way down the long aisle to the altar.

Or having a three-hour delay on the overnight train from Venice to Paris and thus being awake at 6:00 in the morning to see your old neighborhood in Lausanne, Switzerland out the window as the train whizzes by -- something you wouldn't have seen at 3:00 am because you would have been asleep.

Register now for the 2015 Cultural Tour!

Lift Off
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.

Announcing the 2015 Cultural Tour!

Announcing the 2015 World to the Wise Cultural Tour! Ask any of the wonderful people who have joined us in the past, and they will tell you this educational tour left an indelible mark on them. The mission of World to the Wise is to educate and inspire Americans with the cultural riches of the world around us. It has been said that "the fool wanders, but the wise man travels;" our goal is to  become wiser by exposing ourselves to other cultural perspectives in order to gain more perspective on our own culture. The exact dates for the 2015 tour have not yet been set, but chances are we will be looking at the first three weeks in June. The tour is designed in such a way as to allow participants to come for all or part of the adventure. Our itinerary generally includes, Rome, Florence and surrounding area (Tuscany), possibly Venice, Paris, and London. Whether you are a history buff, an art aficionado, a foodie, or simply an adventurer, there is something for you!

If you are interested in staying informed of developments for the June '14 tour, please fill in your name and email address in the form to the right. We must meet a certain minimum in order for the tour to make, so help us spread the word! The tour is open to everyone of all ages, but students under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Also, look for us on Facebook at World to the Wise to see photos of past tours. "Like" us in order to catch any and all updates.

Let the adventure begin!