The Grandeur and Gelato of the Providence Grand Tour

Written by Ryan Evans on September 29th, 2017

This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Europe with thirteen Providence juniors and seniors and nine adults. Led once again by the intrepid and energetic Mrs. Kniss, the Grand Tour has been a tradition at Providence and reminded us that the virtues of a classical education go beyond the walls of the classroom. Yes, the trip is expensive; and  yes, it’s a big-time commitment – about 13 days of travel by boat, plane, bus, and train. But few if any experiences prove as impactful and inspiring for our students as the Grand Tour.

While on the trip, I read Mark Twain’s cynical yet hilarious account of his own international travels. In Innocents Abroad, Twain offers witty criticisms of his fellow American travelers while marveling at various European landmarks. His exploits at the Acropolis were particularly engaging. He and his cronies were docked off the coast of Athens and told not to leave the ship. They did anyway, making his narrative sound a lot like a chapter straight out of Tom Sawyer.

The Providence Grand Tour offers a whirlwind view of Greece and Italy, and glimpses of sights heretofore only observed in books and videos: The Sistine Chapel; Michelangelo’s statue of David; St. Peter’s Basilica; The Parthenon; the lost city of Pompeii; Raphael’s painting of The School of Athens in the Vatican; the Coliseum in Rome.

In addition to the grandeur, the mundane yet memorable are also worth noting: cold fruit slushies after a sweltering tour of the Acropolis; a quick game of soccer between our boys and some young kids in Rome; a break from Italian food at The Hard Rock Cafe in Venice; countless excursions to the ubiquitous gelato stands famous in every Italian city; shopping for purses in Florence as the young ladies enjoyed the bargains.

This summer’s trip not only illuminated and enlightened my own pedestrian view of the world, but also provided yet more evidence that the type of education our children are receiving is worth the cost, the sweat, and the sacrifice. Despite the heat, the lines, and the long walks, our students showed their mettle, resilience, respect, and love for learning. We heard nothing but praise for the behavior and attitudes of the students. As Dr. Haft remarked after the trip, somewhat incredulously, “Not once did I hear a complaint from any of the kids. Not one.”

The Grand Tour broadens the mind and shapes us in a way that only travel can. And the success of the tour is one more testimony to God’s work in the lives of our students. Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Indeed.