From Athens to Rhodes: Circling the Rim of the Aegean

June 6/7-22, 2014

What Previous Travelers Say

“Thank you for doing such an outstanding job! We really appreciate all of your hard work ‘behind the scenes!’ St. Olaf continues to set the standard for educational trips!”

“Well organized, educational as well as fun.”

“I was on the 2006 trip to Greece, enjoyed that immensely, and felt the same about this year’s. Jim and Donna May, Dimitri Cocconi [our tour operator] and Stella Galani [our national guide] are an unbeatable combination. And, just as in 2006, we were fortunate enough to have a great mix of friendly, interesting folks on the trip. Thanks for another unforgettable experience.”


We invite you to explore sites that have made Greece a favorite destination for centuries, along with a few others that are off the beaten path, not generally found on typical tours. We will begin and end our study with visits in Athens, with her famed Acropolis and the agora where Socrates walked and taught; the Theater of Dionysus; and the marvelous new Acropolis Museum, breathtaking both for its own architecture as well as the contents that it houses. Those who have not visited Greece since Athens hosted the Olympics will be delighted to discover that most sites have undergone a facelift. The previously congested, diesel fume-filled area around the Acropolis is now a beautiful pedestrian park.

Other notable sites include Nauplion, the charming seaside town built in the shadow of a medieval fortress; Epidauros, the monumental stone theatre with its legendary acoustics; and Mycenae, the home of Agamemnon and the famous Lions' Gate. Of course, no summer trip to Greece would be complete without an excursion to the islands. On this occasion, we will visit Rhodes, considered the jewel of the Dodecanese Islands, and Kos, where Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once lived and practiced, as well as a couple of smaller islands in the Dodecanese. We'll also make a day excursion to Turkey to round out our studies.

As always, the goal of our Study Travel program is to capture an essence of the history, culture, and traditions of both ancient and modern Greece. Lectures on the history, literature, and politics of ancient Greece will supplement daily on-site discussions to bring to life the great civilization of which we are all heirs. Our daily routine will also, as usual, be punctuated by time for fellowship, relaxation, swimming in the Aegean, and savoring the wonderful Greek cuisine. Dimitri Cocconi, who has arranged tours for St. Olaf for more than 35 years, offers his legendary hospitality and Stella Galani, our friend and expert guide, will accompany all of our excursions. As I tell my St. Olaf students, Greece will change your lives — I guarantee it!

Discover Greece

Athens is a city that attacks the senses and stirs the spirit as only the cradle of Western Civilization can. Homeland to gods, goddesses and some of the world's greatest philosophers and athletes, Athens also boasts ancient temples like the Acropolis and its iconic Parthenon, and glorious parks and beaches. We'll experience several of the can't miss sites, including the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, the Agora, and the National Museum.

Nauplion (Nafplion) is far and away the most charming town in the Peloponnese, with stepped streets overhung with balconies dripping with bougainvillea, handsome neoclassical buildings, enticing shops, restaurants, cafes, and two fine museums!

The Theater of Epidaurus is one of the most impressive sights in Greece. Probably built in the 4th century, the theater seated -- and still seats -- some 14,000 spectators. Unlike so many ancient buildings, including almost everything at the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the theater was not pillaged for building blocks in antiquity. As a result, it is astonishingly well preserved; restorations have been both minimal and tactful.

Selecting a divine patron was serious business for an ancient city. Most Greek cities played it safe and chose a mainstream god or goddess, a ranking Olympian -- someone like Athena or Apollo or Artemis, or Zeus himself. It's revealing that the people of Rhodes chose Helios, the sun, as their signature god. Indeed, millennia later the cult of the sun is alive and well on Rhodes, and no wonder: the island receives on average more than 300 days of sunshine a year. But Rhodes gives visitors more than a mere tan. A location at the intersection of the East and West propelled the island into the thick of both commerce and conflicts. The scars left by its rich and turbulent history have become its treasures. Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Crusader Knights, Turks, Italians -- all invaders brought some destruction but who also left behind fascinating artifacts. Through it all, Rhodes has remained beautiful. Its beaches are amond the cleanest in the Aegean, and its interior is still home to unspoiled mountain villages, rich fertile plains -- and beautiful butterflies.

(Descriptions here and in the itinerary have been adapted from, unless otherwise noted.)

Program leaders

Professor of Classics Jim May is the author of Trials of Character: The Eloquence of Ciceronian Ethos, and an annotated translation co-authored with Jakob Wisse, of Cicero's On the Ideal Orator. With his St. Olaf colleague Anne Groton, he wrote a textbook, 38 Latin Stories. Also the author of many articles on Cicero, classical rhetoric and Latin pedagogy, Jim recently edited a volume of essays, A Companion to Cicero: Rhetoric and Oratory. He recently published a Ciceronian student reader, containing Latin passages and commentary from several of the orator's most notable works.

When not immersed in his role as provost and dean of the college, Jim competes in handball, restores antique tractors and old cars, builds harpsichords, plays baroque instruments, chants Gregorian-style and sings in a Renaissance chamber choir. Besides having visited Greece more than two dozen times, his greatest claim to fame is having been one of 170 rowers who powered the trireme Olympias, the replica of an ancient Greek warship, around the Aegean Sea in 1990 and again in 1993.

Jim and Donna, a professional singer, choir director and high school music teacher, have two sons, Joseph and Michael, both graduates of St. Olaf.

Personal perspectives: what previous participants say

  • "It was, as I anticipated, a fascinating and illuminating experience."

  • "Well organized, educational as well as fun."

  • "Thank you for doing such an outstanding job! We really appreciate all of your hard work 'behind the scenes!' St. Olaf continues to set the standard for educational trips!"

  • "I was on the 2006 trip to Greece, enjoyed that immensely, and felt the same about this year's. Jim and Donna May,

  • Dimitri Cocconi [our tour operator] and Stella Galani [our national guide] are an unbeatable combination. And, just as in 2006, we were fortunate enough to have a great mix of friendly, interesting folks on the trip. Thanks for another unforgettable experience."

  • What was your favorite "behind the seen" experience? "Standing in the shade of a tree at Troy, listening to Jim read the story of Priam begging Achilles for the release of his son Hector. As Jim says, that was BIG!"

What to expect 

Greece is a mix of modern and rustic. Large cities have all the usual amenities, while smaller towns and rural areas may feel like a step back in time, with an unhurried air, and warm, friendly people.

Greece is not handicapped accessible. Though we will transfer between cities by air-conditioned private motor coach, you should be prepared for lots of walking. Greece is full of tiny streets, mountains, hills and dales — places a bus just can't get to. You should be capable of walking a minimum of one mile at a time over uneven terrain and up to five miles per day, of climbing stairs that may not have handrails, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of traveling, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing a different culture, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Hotels will be tourist class (typically three or four star) with private baths, air conditioning and English-speaking staff. In smaller towns, we often secure the best hotel available, which may be two star (small sleeping rooms, and fewer amenities such as in-room coffee making service).

June weather in Greece is generally delightful — 60s (Fahrenheit) in the evenings, 75-85 during the day. It will start getting warmer as July approaches. Highs could be in the 90s (even high 90s) some days; lows might be in the high 70s or even low 80s. Humidity is fairly low, which means the shade offers relief.

Most days, we will depart the hotel between 8 and 9 a.m.; we will coordinate our departure time in order to maximize our time at that day's sites. We will stop for lunch at some point in the early afternoon (usually between 12 noon and 2 p.m.). Often we will resume our program after lunch, visiting another site or museum. We will try to avoid the hottest part of the day, but sometimes being out in the sun will be inevitable. Some days will have several hours of free time; others will have very little or none at all. We try to return to the hotel in time to relax and freshen up for dinner. Greeks eat dinner much later (particularly in the summer months) than do Americans, and dining for the Greeks is much more than eating; it is time to socialize, to sing, to dance, and generally to experience fellowship with friends. We generally arrange for our evening meals between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. This can make for long days on certain days.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit or

Program fee

The program fee is $4,890 through Feb. 15, 2014. Based on double occupancy, it includes seminars by Jim May, assistance by Donna May and a national guide, all accommodations, breakfast daily and several other group meals, admissions for group activities, ground transportation except airport transfers, and gratuities to guides and drivers. For single occupancy, add $795.

Please PLAN TO DEPART THE U.S. ON FRIDAY, JUNE 6 in order to arrive in Athens on June 7. Plan to depart Athens for the U.S. on Sunday, June 22. For assistance with flight arrangements, may we recommend Noreen Deiss of Travel Leaders / Suntime Travel. She can be reached at 651-429-0039 or We recommend you not purchase non-refundable airfare until we can confirm the program has enough participants to go.


Payment schedule


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