Wednesday, September 28, 2011

let's see Assisi, si?

I love Assisi. I love the town plan, I love the view from the basilica, I love the light pinks & grays of the stones dating back to the Middle Ages that illuminate the pilgrimage, I love St. Francis, I love St. Clare, I was even excited to be nearly left behind by the group, because that would have meant more time in Assisi.

"Can you take our picture with the church in the background? That way"

It's really not unlike Castiglione, where the medieval walls make you feel like you can be stricken with the Black Plague at any moment (not really that you are in fear, but you get the idea, right? admittedly though, that was my first thought when I saw a dead rat near a sewer).

The air in the basilica of St. Francis was thick with holiness, or grace, or something that made me physically feel that we were in God's presence. And the frescoes that depicted his life! They read like a pictorial book.
"We have television, the internet. They had the Church."

"Now we ascend to the upper church, we ascend in spirit and in consciousness, we as men ascend to God, do you understand the significance of the maisons' design?" -Paolo

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not Pompeii

So, me and my girls Kristen and Sarah booked a room at a fantastic convent in Rome for the night, and had grand plans of making a day trip to Pompeii.

Well, the funny thing about plans...

We sort of had a weird feeling about Pompeii, which we chalked up to being tired/not excited to travel after seeing so much in Rome. We sort of had a weird feeling about the train schedule, and were dismissed by a Trenitalia worker when we wanted to make sure our tickets were right. We sort of had a weird feeling about the train we were on, like maybe it wasn't the right one. An hour in and we get excited to see the glittering Mediterranean from the window.

Then, quote of all quotes, Sarah crinkles her nose and begs the question:

"Wait. Shouldn't the ocean be on the other side of the train?"

We immediately slip into denial. We turn our maps around ("well, maybe we went this way?"). Nope. We're irrefutably, undeniably not traveling south to Pompeii but rather, north to God-knows-where.

The last stop dumps us out at a little town called Civitavecchia. We are frustrated, confused, and have a great "conversation" involving Google translate with a train worker who says there is nothing he can do to refund our money.

At this point, it is only good, adaptable attitudes that turn this into one of my favorite excursions. We take a breath, walk around, drink espresso, wade in the beautifully clear & cold waters on the rocky beach, eat the BEST seafood (and maybe even meal) I have had (besides those of my Cajun momma's), and soak in a few hours of peace away from the Roman rush.

Seafood risotto, white wine, gnocchietti doused in olive oil, fried shrimp & calamari.

I think the angels rocked us to sleep that night, or maybe it was our full bellies. We ate breakfast with the beautiful nuns, and visited Santa Maria Maggiore before saying "arrivederci" to Roma.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roman holiday

A mandatory three-day field trip to Roma. Haha, the birth of civilization, mandatory!

I think the blurriness of many of my pictures is an appropriate representation for how much of a whirlwind this trip was. An incredible whirlwind.

On our first day, a woman with the most soothing voice held her pink umbrella high and led us through Campo de Fiori, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain. It was seriously such a blessing to have her calming present guide us through the insanely crowded areas. "Before you cross the street, you must first cross yourself!"

Campo de Fiori's fragrant floral and fruit smells, and the song comprised of the yells of the market's vendors made it one of my favorite spots. Still, there was nothing like seeing the colossal Pantheon with its concrete coffered ceiling and giant oculus–I think the event that made me realize, "I'm in Rome!" Through a few coins in Trevi fountain, and after the tour broke up we ascended to the top of the Spanish steps for a panoramic view of the city.

Day two: hardcore-parkoured the walls of the Vatican and rushed through the museum to see the stunning Sistine Chapel–no pics allowed.

Catholic and happy.

Rafael's "School of Athens"

Took a breather before entered St. Peter's Basilica...turned a corner and there it was, the largest cathedral in the world. The pillars created arms reaching out to welcome her pilgrims (and tourists) in, and upon walking through the massive doors, we stood in awe. Wandered and prayed (and cried a little, I'm not going to lie) for over an hour.

Look, God gave us mood lighting!

a personal fav: all the Popes, starting with Peter.

Finished off the already very Catholic day by meeting up with my seminarian friend, David. We enjoyed a fantastic pasta dinner & limoncello (to aid in digestion, of course).

Day three was ancient Rome with our very enthusiastic, very fast paced, very knowledgable, and not to mention handsome tour guide, Rich: Teatro Marcellus, Capitoline Hill, the Forum, the Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), and Constantine's arch.

It's still hard for me to understand that we were able to see these places, to look down into the old city's elevation, to see where Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March, to acknowledge the people who invented and discovered things so that we can all sit comfortably and picnic in front of the Colosseum. Mind. Blown. Here's a little poem I had fun writing about day one, specifically:

'An experiment on the overwhelming of your senses'

Turn now to channel 2
can you hear? good
follow the pink torch

think of the ancient
did she say Asian?
no, Ancient
look here at the plan
we are close to where Caesar gasped
et tu?
do you know the Ides of March?

see the corso name?
where artisans perfected their craft
at this Piazza something important
try to listen
the smell of fruit and of flowers and
ew, sewer
the vendors sing my praises.

this was a palace
see this fountain? it is a joke
here the Senators make our decisions
across from the deer in place of a cross
drink the world’s best coffee

turn the corner
the building you have only read about
no pictures could have prepared you
the coffered dome, solid concrete
the martyrs replace pagan idols
the artist and the pizza queen rest forever

let’s see a Gothic church
this statue he re-chiseled
(out, damned spot!)
another church with a false dome
make a wish, or maybe three
ignore the beggars and hold tight to your purse.

the Virgin Mary is adorned
and here
the steps Audrey floated down
why is it Spanish again?
(I don’t know)

we finish. te piache?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mo' mosaics

Ravenna: so sketch at night, but so pretty in the daytime! We weren't sure what this town had to offer other than architectural significance.

At first, we were content just to wander into the various churches and peruse the market.

Then, a few of us consented to pay what we thought was a high fee to get into the museum and the early Christian World Heritage sites of San Vitale, Sant'Apollinare, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and the Baptistry.

Oh my gracious, was it worth it...our jaws dropped when we walked into San Vitale basilica. What makes these churches particularly unique is that their ceilings and walls are covered in the most intricate mosaics you can imagine, garnished with gold and sparkling from the natural light let in by the alabaster windows. Absolutely incredible.

We ended the day at the nearby beach. Our indication that we were on the right bus route was the hairy European man just chillin' in his speedo, bahaha! The near-topless lady I giggled at as we staked out our patch of sand approached me to help her hook her top back together...oh, the irony.

Squishy Laura LOVES the beach!

And despite the train strike the next day, we made it back to Castiglione in a matter of 6 hours. Train strikes can't hold these girls back–we resourcefully chased after a bus to get out of town.

Friday, September 16, 2011

my Bologna has a first name

Our next adventure was a rather hastily planned trip to Bologna and Ravenna. Got up early enough to see the sunrise.

Beautiful, isn't it? And it's pretty all over the world.

Me and the 6 other girls would not be discouraged by any train confusion, no way! We were even inspired to sing. A little pastry treat helps to sooth any fatigue or irritation.

Hannah and her "squiggly bread"

We visited the Medieval Museum and were helped by the sweetest curators, who know so much and wanted so badly for us to understand Italian! They spoke slowly and simply and we learned quite a bit, actually. As it is in many towns, the current elevation of Bologna is higher than what is was in the Middle Ages. In the museum, we were able to see the old road exposed. Yay for learninggg

And of course, we saw several beautiful churches–notably the very large San Petronio basilica. Marveled over the architecture, and I sneakily bought a bottle of wine made specifically for the basilica. Only Catholics.

Then, what we waited approximately one hour for...LASAGNA. Bolognese lasagna, so we read, was the thing to get. And oh my gracious, was it. This, my friends, is the stuff of dreams. I'm probably venturing back to this town just to get this taste of heaven again.

Speaking of tastes of heaven! The girls I traveled with are SO sweet to humor me in all my Catholic-ness. It must be positively laughable when I whip out my "Catholic Shrines of Western Europe" book and get excited over almost every single church. I was pumped but also a little nervous that they wanted to tag along to St. Catherine's shrine (patron saint of artists). How was I going to explain why I was there, why I cared, that she has been incorrupt since 1463?

And once again I was humbled by God's faithfulness. As we waited for the chapel with her body to open, a little old Italian priest (83 years old, 54 years a priest) shuffles in the church. He immediately comes over to us, begins to tell the story of St. "Cat," explains that the chapel is closed but he will try to get us in–which he does, then gives us an intimate tour of the relics & shrine, gives us prayer cards, and ultimately blesses us as a group. I was particularly struck by his words, "I tell you, this is the true body."

our precious priest, Father Valetine! he's the short one on the far left

It was incredibly moving, I think for all of us. It's one thing to have these holy encounters, but it's heightened when you're able to experience it with others, and to visibly see how God is drawing every person closer to himself!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


So the "fiorentino" in our town name translates to guess what city we went to? We've had the opportunity to go there twice, so I'll give you a twofer special and combine my experiences from both visits.

Our first view of this fantastic city, besides those from the windows of the bus, was from the steps of San Miniato al Monte. From the top of "al monte," we surveyed the colossal Duomo (the world's third largest cathedral), Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, the old city walls.

(Paolo, the director of the Santa Chiara study center, acted as our tour guide (he'll do this often throughout our semester). The man is a Florentine, and an absolute genius. He is truly a walking encyclopedia with a philosophical outlook, and makes me question and think in ways I never thought possible. You'll often see me dodging through our group, trying to be side-by-side with him and soak up some of his knowledge. He's the cute, little old man in some of these pics).

At San Miniato, Paolo commented on architecture linking man to God. Sightseeing church after church, and I think I'm beginning to understand.

Next, Santa Croce, which houses the tombs of some pretty famous peeps: Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli.

The Annunciation, sculpted by Donatello (I think)

Lunch at Trattoria del Pennello, where the artistic talent of Michelangelo and Albertinelli, permeates the wall (they ate and drank here) and where I feasted upon THE BEST tortellino you will ever taste. Like, the kind of food that could possibly spark conversion. Can you see my excitement?

And the Cathedral! In a nutshell: it's really big, the facade was a much later addition, it's breathtakingly beautiful.

This Pietà, by Michelangelo (whose work I fell in love with very quickly), used to be inside.

A visit to the scenic Ponte di Vecchio:

And a rather informative tour at the Galileo Galilei Museum, where we learned about the history and progression of science (thank you, Medici family) and the father of modern science. Even his bones were on display, it's like he's a secular saint!

Finished off with what is considered the world's best gelato at Vivoli's (even Paolo confirms).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A little hike to compliment your wine?

When I heard that there was a wine festival in Greve, Chianti, I think I was the first name on the sign-up sheet. It was another scenic drive, the rolling hills scattered with vineyards. Even though one of our fellow Ags had us stop because he was motion-sick, he couldn't have chosen a prettier place to throw up (love ya, Grant!)

It was positively delightful going from booth to booth, and talking to the wine producers. Even met a cute couple from Colorado, in Chianti for their honeymoon. Awww.

Also this weekend, we had a fantastic half-day of trekking and...more wine-tasting, yay! After breakfast (which by the way, for Italians means a selection of nothing but pastries and coffee), we leisurely walked down into the valley for a little wine and cheese. Afterwards, the pace began to pick up and we really roughed it for the next 2 hours. I love love love hiking.

But I love love love hiking even more when it finishes off with lunch at a vineyard!

The unfortunate thing about lunches at vineyards (as if there are any downsides, I mean, come on) is that they don't have easily-accessible potties. When I asked the co-owner, she pointed to what I thought was her house. Thankfully I had my girls Emmerson and Kristen with me when we knocked on the door of a fairly run-down house. A hairy, big-bellied Italian man, wearing nothing but his underwear stood in the doorway. He was quite happy to have such cute visitors and more than willing to lend me his "bathroom."

Upon our return, I told the family about my adventure and pointed to the house we trekked to. They had a pretty good laugh, and told me, "You are so brave! That is the home of the town drunk! You are our idol."

To which I thought, "Thanks! Can you adopt me now, and give me wine and delicious Tuscan food for the rest of my life?"

the Italians to the right of me

A taste of Italian humor:
wine vendor– "What's your name?"
wine vendor– "North or South?"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Il Castello

My second European castle adventure! A few miles away on another hill sits a castle. WIth a rather primal mentality, we saw, we decided to conquer, and we did.

Though we began as a group of 6, only 4 made it to the finish line. Yeah, it was pretty intense.

My roommate and I fell behind, but moved bravely forward. We scaled the old castle walls, pushing through the pain and blood–yes, I shed blood! Darn blackberry bushes. And with great joy, we surveyed the Tuscan valley our beloved Castiglione from another hill. Epic day.

look at that view!