Our inaugural GCSE Classical Civilisation students travelled to Athens for Hemel Hempstead School’s first ever trip to Greece. A late change of flight meant that we arrived slightly later than initially planned, but not too late for a delicious three course meal in an Athenian taverna – introducing the pupils to some foods they had never eaten before. One, on encountering a Greek-yoghurt version of panna cotta, proceeded to eat six! Checking into the hotel was a delight, both because of the location and luxury of the accommodation and because of the exceptional tour company representatives. However, with a packed schedule ahead the kids were summarily packed off to bed.
Eos (or just slightly later) brought knocked-upon doors and the siren song of the best buffet breakfast I’ve ever encountered on a school trip – amongst the spread on offer were foods both sacred to the ancient Greeks: olives, and to the modern English: bacon and eggs. A picturesque coach journey took us to the site of the oracle at Delphi, known as the navel of the world. Described by my Cretan friend as “one of the best archaeological sites in Greece”, it was sublimely situated. The weather had threatened but held off until we had toured the site, fawned over the ubiquitous cats at archaeological sites and entered the first of a number of fascinating museums we visited on the trip. Prising the children away from the friendly felines, we briefly stopped at a further site before the coach driver’s recommendation of a late lunch at a traditional taverna.
Sunday brought another early morning coach trip hugging the beautiful Aegean coast down to Mycenae
- according to myth it was founded by Perseus who went on to slay the much-maligned Medusa, its massive stone walls were said to have been built by cyclopes, and it was the kingdom of Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks in the Trojan Encompassing epic views down the valley to the sea, we stood on the spot where Aeschylus’ watchman spoke of the “great ox on his tongue” on observing Agamemnon’s fatal return. We were left similarly speechless. Boris Johnson, never short of something to say, was to much later confuse the Commons by quoting it at PMQs. Also on site were the beehive- roofed tomb of Clytemnestra, simultaneously murderous wife and avenging mother, and the Lion Gate
- both some of the many prescribed sources for the GCSE Classical Civilisation exam that pupils experienced first hand on the trip. On we went to Homer’s “mighty-walled Tiryns” (he loved a good epithet) and stood on the spot in the palace where Heracles received his orders for his Twelve A packed lunch followed a packed morning after which we moved on to the Sanctuary of Asclepius and the Theatre of Epidaurus. There a spot marked the spot of the best acoustics and a steep climb through the seats gave the students glorious views. Even then there was more – the coach returned us to Athens and the thoroughly modern New Acropolis Museum displaying that site’s ancient artefacts. The Parthenon reliefs and sculptures are a major prescribed source on the exam and seeing them in situ here complemented our Classicists earlier viewing of the other ones in the British Museum. Upon our return Rishi Sunak helpfully reignited a row with the Greek Prime Minister to help our students revise their cultural significance. It is interesting to note that there are empty spaces already labelled in the museum in Athens for each of the major pieces that currently reside in the museum in London. Dinner was deserved and delicious.
Although less manic, Monday was also an early start. Woken, showered, packed, breakfasted and loaded onto the coach, we were at the front of the queue of basically us to get into the Acropolis archaeological site itself by 8am. Bright morning air and an almost empty site gave the students probably the best experience of this iconic and stunning site that they could possibly have wished for. All that remained was a spot of souvenir shopping before the flight home. It was a full, fulfilling and fun trip – made possible by excellent planning, lovely students and a superb tour company.