2013-07-25 / Top News

At Renaissance Academy, the world is a classroom

BY EVAN WILLIAMS

When it comes to high-end excursions abroad, one local travel agency specializes in providing not just world class dining and hotels, but an educational, cultural experience.

To be sure, The Renaissance Academy, in the Office of Continuing Education at Florida Gulf Coast University, is no ordinary travel agency. Actually, it’s a school that offers dozens of classroom courses, lectures, day trips and other programs geared toward intellectually active Southwest Florida retirees.

And since 2002, more than 1,000 members have participated in the Academy’s Travel Abroad Program, said director John Guerra. The concierge-style sojourns are limited to the first two dozen people who sign up. There are three scheduled travel opportunities coming up in September with space remaining.

Those include “Historic Lodgings of Spain and Portugal,” Sept. 16 - 30; “Invitation to Tuscany,” Sept. 7 - 15; and “Legendary Turkey and the Turquoise Coast,” Sept. 5 - 19.

Itineraries for trips later in 2014 are still being finalized. Those include a trip to Sicily, and another to the French countryside, in April and May.

Each tour takes guests to a mixture of destinations well-known and sometimes obscure. Participants may also take two trips as one, back to back.

“While I wouldn’t call these study tours, there’s a heavy emphasis on culture,” Mr. Guerra said.

Fort Myers residents Robert and Joan Pascotto, he a retired heart surgeon and she a retired nurse, have been on trips organized by Mr. Guerra to Italy, Brazil and Turkey. Among other features, the adventures include local art history guides who are, fortunately, fluent in English.

“That puts a very nice icing on the cake to get so much education and exposure,” Mrs. Pascotto said, “on top of the wonderful time, wonderful meals, wonderful wine and accommodations.”

Since the groups are small and made up of Southwest Floridians of similar ages, they tend to gel and come back with “20 new best friends,” Mr. Guerra said.

“The people that take these trips, they are very, very individual, intelligent and sociable,” Mrs. Pascotto said. “Everyone always has a good time and you pair up and meet other people.”

In addition to destinations such as Sicily and France, Mr. Guerra is considering planning a trip next year to Myanmar, a lesser-traveled Asian country bordered by Thailand.

“It’s a place most Americans would never go,” he said. “Most people in Southwest Florida have probably been to Paris; they’ve been to Rome; they’ve been to London. I’m sort of trying to branch out a bit.”

One of the trips Mr. Guerra led in past years took participants to Turkey. He described one day when the group took a private boat along the coastline with its turquoise waters, stopping at whim to take a dip or feast on freshly caught seafood prepared by the captain. That evening their tour guide played the Saz, a Turkish instrument similar to a guitar.

“We literally sang and danced all night long on the deck of the ship,” Mr. Guerra recalled.

In May 2012, a group led by the Academy’s program manager, Dr. Chris Gallagher, PhD., traveled to China. They were also able to cross the border into Tibet because of their skilled local guide, even while political tensions rose to a high point after monks there set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. Dr. Gallagher still keeps in touch with the guide, Mei-Mei Zhang (Vicki to the American group).

Once in Tibet, they stayed at a hotel that provided oxygen tanks in the rooms because of the thin atmosphere, nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. In China, they witnessed the infamous pollution in Beijing and elsewhere, Dr. Gallagher said, which covered the sky with “a gray haze.” The group also saw high profile cultural destinations such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Yangtze River.

“It was truly the trip of a lifetime,” Dr. Gallagher said.

Most of the participants on the trips are retirees enrolled in the continuing education program; others may include their younger guests, ranging in age from upper 30s to a youthful 89, Mr. Guerra said.

“We’ve had mothers, daughters, fathers, sons going along; sisters, grandmothers, aunts and nieces go,” he said. “It’s always an interesting mix.” ¦

The Renaissance Academy Travel Abroad Program’s upcoming trips in 2013

>> “Historic Lodgings of Spain & Portugal” Sept. 16 - 30
Land and Air from $4,834 per person
>> “Invitation to Tuscany”
Sept. 7 - 15
Land only from $3,295 per person
>> “Legendary Turkey & the Turquoise
Coast”
Sept. 5 - 19
Land and Air from $4,392
>> Cost: generally includes airfare, hotels,
most meals and gratuities, English-speaking guides, transportation and entrance
fees.
>> More information or to register for a
trip, visit www.registerra.fgcu.edu or call
425-3276

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