Except for me, the CBB alumni range in class years from 1943 to 1965. All have vivid recollections of the Cold War. The opportunity to travel to what was America's archenemy is a major draw.
Surprisingly, while the CBB participants are an extremely well-traveled bunch (their accounts of previous trips include Italy, Egypt, Japan, South America, among others), few are regular group travelers. "This is our first group tour after shunning them our entire life," says Bob Ferrell (Bowdoin '62) at dinner with wife Mimi the first night. "I wouldn't have come on a tour if it didn't include discussions of the history, literature and music."
The Cathedral of the Resurrection (Our Savior-on-the-Spilt-Blood) in St. Petersburg.
Since the spring of 2001, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin have collaborated to offer alumni trips to such destinations as Tuscany, Normandy and Costa Rica,always with a professor or two along. While the colleges supply the appropriate faculty and offer the trips to alumni, a specialty tour operator runs each trip, organizing all airfare, lodging, meals and sightseeing logistics, including local tour guides in each city. Even as international travel has declined drastically in the last two years, affiliated group travel is gaining in popularity, with everyone from the local bank to bar associations offering programs. While actual numbers on the competitive travel industry are scarce, Scott Kluesner, vice president of sales at Intrav, which operates our Russia trip, says his company has seen continued growth in alumni travel over the last few years. "In fact our forecast for 2004 is even greater than ever before," he says.
Our faculty members are Sheila McCarthy, associate professor of Russian literature and language at Colby and director of the Colby in St. Petersburg study abroad program, and Tony Antolini (Bowdoin '63), director of the Bowdoin chorus and an expert on Russian music. McCarthy and Antolini are on hand to answer questions ("Are the arts supported?" "What's your favorite Chekhov short story?"), offer lectures ("The Literary Myth of St. Petersburg," "Russian Music to 1800") and provide language assistance (How do I say, "good-morning/how are you/thank you?","dobraye utra/kak dila/spasiba."). Ultimately each professor is a fellow traveler,who just happens to know a heck of a lot about Russia.
"There are lots of tours you can take that tell you stuff and do the tour-guide thing," says John Ridlon (Bowdoin '63). "But these are recognized authorities in their field and they bring a unique perspective."
In a meeting on the Priboy our first night in Moscow, Antolini says he and McCarthy are now on their "home turf." To be more exact, Russian music is Antolini's specialty. Growing up in New York City he visited Russian churches to hear their choirs. "I was so stunned by the singing. I couldn't wait to get started," he says. Antolini immediately signed up for Russian upon arriving at Bowdoin as an undergraduate, first visited the Soviet Union in 1962 ("they were just opening the country to students") and has since led two musical tours to Russia.