The cultural experience was not limited to museums. At the end of each day, they discovered masterpieces of Italian cooking. American pasta and pizza don't compare to the Italian variety, they decided.
The group also enjoyed gelato. “We ate that like it was going out of style. Now we’re all trying to lose 10 pounds,” Sara Christensen Blair said.
She and her husband, Greg Blair, led 19 people to Venice and Florence on a trip from June 5 to 15. Christensen Blair and Blair are professors of art at Northern.
The trip was an academic course called “Italy 2013: Past to Present.” The students who took it earned one credit.
The delegation included 13 current Northern students and four recent grads. The other adults were Northern employee Ronald Brownie and his wife, Vickie.
Only three students had traveled overseas before. “Most of them had not been to Europe. So it was really fun to see Europe through their eyes,” Christensen Blair said.
The trip was designed to experience art both old and new.
In Florence, the group viewed some of the great art of the Renaissance. The Blairs wanted to go to Florence because it was the birthplace of the Renaissance. They visited the Uffizi Gallery, which houses many Renaissance masterpieces.
They also enjoyed seeing the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The Florence cathedral is known for its dome, which was completed in 1436.
In Venice, the destination was the Venice Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art.
The students saw art by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. “All the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Christensen Blair said.
Kira Neville, a Northern student from Aberdeen, loved seeing so many people coming together for single event — the Venice Biennale. All of the art and the pavilions were so different. Yet, “we were all there for the same reason.” It also struck Neville how old everything was, and how everyone was on the go.
Ipswich native Chrystal Morlock said the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the art was breathtaking. It was great to experience the culture and see the art with a great group of students, said Morlock, who graduated in December.
At the Angola pavilion, the students saw a group that included Michael Stipe, the lead singer of R.E.M. The older group members were excited, but the students weren’t familiar with Stipe.
In the past seven years, the Blairs have led Northern students on trips to Minneapolis, Omaha, Winnipeg, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. They felt it was time to offer a trip for credit, which led to the Italian journey.
Christensen Blair is especially familiar with Europe. She went to high school in Brussels, Belgium.
The trip offered lots of experiences you can't have in South Dakota. For instance, the group traveled to the Venice airport by boat.
The students began each day with a discussion. A good part of the evening was spent dining.
In Italy, most people arrive at restaurants at 8 or 9 p.m. “We would go at 7:40 or 8 and we were always the first people there,” Christensen Blair said.
In setting up the trip, the Blairs did not work with a travel agency. They arranged the trip on their own to save on costs.
For each participant, the cost for plane, travel and hotels was $3,600. Airfare accounted for half of that amount.
The Blairs are planning their next international trip, to Paris and Belgium, in three years.
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