A Celebration of Life…..

Authenticity – enquiry – tolerance – humility – humour

The ‘educated-traveller’ is a celebration of life, nature, human achievement, and our magical, precious environment. It is about ordinary people, chance meetings, conversations, experiences. It’s about great people and extra-ordinary places. It is a highly personal version of events – it is what I have seen and observed. It is my interpretation of these things. I hope that my thoughts are interesting to you, and I welcome your comments and observations. I write as truthfully and honestly as I can.

A lifetime ago I crossed the causeway that links Venice to the mainland of Northern Italy. The beauty of the city is captivating. Palaces, canals, hundreds of bridges. Everything transported around the city by water or hand-cart. The blue-green waters of the lagoon lapping against white marble. Wooden posts for mooring the gondolas. Boats and water everywhere. A bustling city that hasn’t really changed since the 17th century. More than 1500 years of history before my eyes. Venice represents the very best of human creative energy. This sums up the ethos of the ‘educated-traveller’ blog too. A celebration of life, nature, human achievement. I’d like to invite you to explore some of the posts and let me know what you think. What resonates with you, what makes you nod in agreement?

The blog posts that I write fall into four broad categories:

1/ PEOPLE – this could be any kind of person; a shoe-maker in Venice, a dedicated gardener in Oxford, an archaeologist in Jericho or perhaps Freya Stark a doughty female traveller to the Middle East in the 1930s. Or at a more festive level it could be an article about Lily Bollinger, who ran Bollinger Champagne from the 1940s until 1971.

2/ PLACES – of out-standing natural beauty, or areas that fascinate me. This might be The Alps around the Rhone Glacier, Switzerland or the barren Judean Hills north of Jerusalem. It could be the wild and exposed Grimsel Pass in Switzerland or the fairytale chateaux and lush green gardens of the Loire Valley in France.

3/ JOURNEYS  – both physical journeys from one place to another AND ALSO journeys of the mind, inner dialogues connecting one event with another. For example a road trip from France to Northern Italy From Monaco to Pisa with love…. or a recent journey from Chartres Cathedral to Canterbury Chartres to Canterbury ā€“ A Pilgrimage 

4/ VERY SPECIAL DESTINATIONS – for me this would have to be Venice and the Venetian Lagoon. An area that has fascinated me since my first visit there – quite a long time ago. Venice is unique and the location of the city in the heart of the lagoon enthralls visitors. Venice ā€“ A day on the water in Venice

I delight in linking the history, geography, art, culture and language of a place or a time in a way that is easy to understand and (hopefully) interesting. Here’s an example of what I’ll be talking about…

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’

These words were written just about one hundred years ago by the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Frost was writing in the early days of the First World War. He had recently returned from England where he had spent time with Edward Thomas (fellow writer and poet) with whom he would walk in the countryside. Some say that Frost’s poem was directed at Thomas and his inability to decide whether to sign up to fight in ‘The Great War’. Shortly after reading this poem Thomas did sign up and in fact died in the trenches in 1917.

For me the poignancy of Frost’s words are profound. ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’ My generation is so fortunate, we have lived through a time of peace in Europe. We haven’t faced the challenges that our grand-fathers and great-grand-fathers had to endure. For us life so far has been about choices, individuality and freedom.

At the same time that Frost was writing, the suffragette movement was gaining ground in Britain. More and more women were campaigning for universal suffrage (the right to vote). Their colours were purple, white and green. Purple signified dignity, white was purity and green was hope. I owe a great deal to these female campaigners. When I got a place at Oxford University, it was at St Hugh’s College. A college founded in 1886 and dedicated to teaching women. When St Hugh’s was established by Elizabeth Wordsworth (great niece of the poet William Wordsworth) she wanted to create a women’s college in Oxford where women could study and learn and be part of the academic community. She created a centre of learning that has since educated politicians, lawyers, national leaders, writers, thinkers and business women. I’m proud to have had that opportunity, to have been part of that great heritage. Very recently I discovered that our second female British Prime Minister Theresa May was a student of St Hugh’s College, Oxford and even read Geography – my subject!

It’s hard to believe that just 100 years ago women in Britain could not vote. Women’s suffrage came eventually in 1928. In America it came earlier, if you were a white American, as a result of years of campaigning by Susan B Anthony and others. Of course in the US full universal suffrage only came properly to all adults in the 1960s.

The ‘educated-traveller’ celebrates life, human experience and our wonderful environment in a neutral and gentle fashion. This blog is not political, nor is it religious. Instead I like to think I encourage tolerance, enquiry, humility and authenticity. It is much more interesting and useful to consider what we have in common with other people, rather than to focus on what sets us apart.

I look forward to hearing from you and hearing your stories.


  • With special thanks to my friend and artist Mary Lou Peters for the delightful water colour ‘Girl on a Bicycle’ For more about Mary Lou Peters click here – Mary Lou Peters – the artist
  • For a portfolio of amazing travel experiences in Europe delivered by ‘The Educated Traveller’ check out our specialist travel company ‘Grand Tourist’ which has been writing and delivering Exceptional and interesting travel in Europe since 2006.
  • Just to prove that life is not always sunshine and bunting why not read: Life’s not always a bed of roses

Notes on Robert Frost and Edward Thomas:

Robert Frost, American poet and Edward Thomas, British poet became friends in the early years of the 20th century. There took long walks in the English countryside together, observing nature and discussing issues of the day.

A poem that has profoundly influenced me is Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’…

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and Iā€”
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.                             Robert Frost 1916

Robert Frost’s fellow poet, walking companion and friend, Edward Thomas also wrote beautiful, bucolic poetry. Here is ‘Adlestrop’ one of the first of Thomas’ poems that I encountered. It is, in a way, a personal elegy to the English countryside. Published after Edward Thomas’ tragic death in 1917:

Yes. I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat,
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willowherb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.                           Edward Thomas 1917

This beautiful poem is about noticing and observing what is going on around us. Written by Thomas when he was in his thirties. Shortly afterwards he was killed at the Battle of Arras, one of many young men to lose their lives in the fields of Northern France during the First World War (1914-18). This poem and many more were published after his death thanks to the dedication of his wife Helen who worked tirelessly editing, organising and promoting his work.

So many stories to observe and think about. The ‘educated-traveller’ blog is just a start…

A note on the author:

  • Janet Simmonds (nee Panagakis) is a British-born travel company owner, writer and tour guide. Born in Liverpool with a slightly Greek grand-father and a very Greek great grand-father she has a special affinity with the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Greece. Trained as a Geographer and Art Historian at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, Janet has spent most of her adult life running specialist travel companies and travelling extensively. Several times a year she leads small groups to different parts of the Mediterranean. Most recently to Southern Italy, Sicily and Venice. She writes about her travels and observations. www.greyhoundtrainers.com
  • Janet is the Director and owner of www.grand-tourist.com a ‘specialist travel company’ with a focus on unique journeys in Italy, France and The Alps.
  • Currently based in London, Oxford and Venice, Italy.
  • She can be contacted at: janet@grand-tourist.com
  • Tragically at present she is without a bicycle!
  •  Happy Reading!
2019 – group photo ‘Writer’s Retreat’ Sept, 2019 – Venice – hoping to be back in Sept, 2022
Dec 2019 – Da Romano Burano – Janet with waiters in my favourite restaurant in the lagoon, Da Romano – photo by Mark Caplan.
Dec 2019 – Body of St Mark concealed in basket – Portico of San Marco, Venezia – photo by Mark Caplan
Visiting Villa Emo – September, 2019 – Janet and Lulu Simmonds appreciate the frescoed portico. Visiting with our friend Nicole Friedler. http://www.nicolefriedler.com
  • Updated: 27-03-18
  • Updated: 27-12-19
  • Updated: 27-05-20

Happy Reading!!

20 thoughts on “A Celebration of Life…..

  1. How fun! It’s wonderful to read about someone who revels in the serendipity of the traveling experience. Thank you for your well written blogs. I look forward to reading more.


    1. Thank you Harlan – I’m glad you liked my writing. I’ve run a travel business all my life. We learn so much from travelling and observing. Over the years I’ve realised that the majority of people are kind, honest and full of integrity. The human spirit is a wonderful thing. Thank you for showing your appreciation.


  2. Hi, Janet
    I can’t believe that it is 4 years since we enjoyed that idyllic week which you arranged for us (and even joined us for part of the week) at the fantastic Hotel i Tre Baroni in Arrezzo. Italy is a country we love, not least because it offers everything- particularly your three estimable motivations of “people, place, and journey” in abundance – plus the other two you didn’t mention – culture and food (or, in order of importance to Margaret, food and culture!). (For any new readers of Janet’s Blogs, I can’t recomend either the author or her recommenations too highly!)
    Having read with interest and anticipation your statement that Villa Cordevigo is “the best hotel I’ve stayed in”, I can’t wait to share that experience. If it is as good as (or better than – surely impossible) i Tre baroni, then guests at Villa Cordevigo are on for a real treat.
    Om a totally different note, having throughly enjoyed the rest of your blogs, at the risk of lowering the tone substantially, your quotation of the first four lines of Edward Thomas’s “Adlestrop” did have a certain limerickian (?) quality, which therefore reminded me of my favourite Limerick, which will provide a suitable light-hearted note on which to end this posting:
    “There was a young Poet from Peru
    Whose limericks always stopped at line two…”

    Well done, on this Website, Janet – to which I am pleased to award my much-coveted,highly sought-after and rarely-achieved Triple “E” Grade: Excellent, Erudite and Entertaining.
    Keep up the good work, and full power to your elbow, hands, legs, and whatever other parts of your anatomy are brought into use in producing such a readable and fabulous Blog!


  3. Janet, I’m sold. Robert Frost, Adelstrop, the oldest sweet shop in Jerusalem and someone ‘travelling with authenticity’ ā€“ who can ask for more? Good luck with the blog, there are some fascinating stories on here and I hope to keep coming back for more.


    1. Morning Jules – I’m in Chicago. I read your blog about Sicily and loved it. So Mediterranean and so typical. I left a comment on Veronica’s site but I’m not sure you’ll see that.The post office incident brought back many memories to me of places like Athens, Cairo and Istanbul. I’m assuming that when you were at the PO it was boiling hot, completely airless and you had sweat trickling down your spine. You will have been the only person in the place struggling with the heat…….although of course you may have been as cool as a cucumber.The joys of a Yorkshire man abroad!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Janet,
    Roland and myself found your website extremely creative and will appeal to people looking for something out of the ordinary. Often it is the people that you meet are as interesting as the places that you visit and you seem to have captured this extremely well in your blogs. X

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello lovely to hear from you and enjoyed the blog . Im retired but doing other things so glad children doing well. Email me xxx


    1. Hi Felicity – I’ll be in touch in early January. We are embarking on a road trip to Southern France tomorrow, back via The Alps. So you’ll hear from me around about 10th Jan. Love J xxx


  6. It is so good to hear from you. I really like your plan and philosophy for travel. John and I recall fondly meeting you and your husband on the Queen Victoria, and later, dinner at The Cipriani as the ship sailed past us beginning its next cruise. We have scheduled a trip to the French Riveria (Aix and Eza) in September and would love to hear from you. Have a wonderful holiday season. Peggy and John Ingalls


    1. Hello Peggy – it is so nice to hear from you too. Yes the cruise on the Queen Victoria was wonderful. Andrew and I have many fond memories. I remember the moment at Cipriani distinctly. I will e-mail you with some other news. Thank you so much for reading the blog if you know anyone who might enjoy it do please pass on the http://www.greyhoundtrainers.com address.


    2. Good Morning Peggy and John – thank you for your kind comments. We’d love to link up with you when you are in the South of France. Please let us have the exact dates. All the best from England.


      1. Hi, Thanks for the invitation to meet up in South of France. We have cancelled the trip — unfortunately the ISIS terrorists just across the Mediterranean are too close for our comfort at our age. We are not as adventurous as we once were, I guess. The good exchange rate is hard to pass up, but…

        Hope all is well with you. Peggy


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