Travel: Italy (Days Thirteen and Fourteen)

Yesterday began with a walk the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia (Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Rome) a Roman Catholic Church with Mass in English. When in Rome… yeah. The liturgy was beautiful and the sermon was fine.

Following the service they had announcements and I thought they were talking about a service in the church (my Italian is still zero), but Heidi kept asking if I wanted to go. I said I was fine either way, but she kept insisting, so I eventually said I was good with it if they wanted to attend. This is when she said, “John, the Pope is going to bless the crowd and religious objects. Don’t you want to go?” Well, DUH! Mark another one up for bad hearing, but you couldn’t have stopped me at that point. We stood in the sun in St. Peter’s Square for over an hour and when he arrived, he was a little white speck in a window six stories up, but it was Pope Francis and I was there. The icing on the cake of this entire trip, which has been remarkable.

I scoured the YouTube video of the service and found myself, Heidi and Scott on Vatican TV.

From there, after a quick bite of lunch, we made our way to the Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. Long name for a significant church. It was the first Vatican and the original church was built in the late 4th century. These churches that are off the main tourist routes are generally not very crowded, but are definitely worth the time to seek out.

We were looking for one more church, but it was closed when we found it, so we made our way back home and got cleaned up for supper.

Supper: I’ve never been to a Michelin rated restaurant until last night and did not know what it meant until I Googled it. Bottom line: really great food, service, and atmosphere. I would say that the Casa Coppelle met all the requirments.

On the way back to the apartment we strolled through Piazza Navona where a street musician was doing a fine job of some old Pink Floyd tunes. It was lights out after this.

Today is our last full day in Rome/Italy, so we made a few necessary stops picking up items that were being altered, took our pre-flight COVID tests (we’re all negative…yay!), and had one final meal at Mimi & Coco, which is only a few blocks from the apartment. A truly fantastic place to eat.

Now it is time to pack and get ready for the trip home. We leave for the airport at 8 a.m.

Of all that I’ve seen, the one image that has stayed with me is one that was painted on the ceiling in the Hall of Constantine in one of the first Papal apartments: The Triumph of Christianity by Tommaso Laureti. It was completed in 1582. Perhaps I’m supposed to be more humble, but this painting makes me feel proud and alive and with great purpose. Anything we decide to put on that pedestal other than Christ Jesus and Him crucified will be broken.

I hope you all have enjoyed my little travel blog and seeing a few of the sights. I look forward to reconnecting with you all when I’m on the other side of the pond.

Blessings,

J+

Travel: Italy (Day Twelve)

Today we were out the door around 9 a.m. and took a taxi over to the Colosseum for our tour there, but before we could begin, we had a cappuccino at the Oppio Caffe, which is where I also had my first experience of Nutella (it was the filling of my croissant) and can I just say, “I’m a big fan!” The two definitely gave me the boost to take on the Colosseum with sugar and caffeine.

You learn something everyday and today I learned that the name of the Colosseum came from a 98 foot statue of the Emperor Nero (pic from the internet) that was considered a “colossus” because of its size. I’m thinking the man had the ego to go along with it!

This truly was a tour through ancient / pre-Christian Rome and considering that some of what we saw was built around 500 b.c. it was impressive. I’ll comment on these as we go…

The Arch of Constantine celebrating his victories. Many of the pieces were taken from other memorials and cobbled together to create this one.
A panoramic shot of the Roman Forum. Can you say, “Lots of old buildings, memorials, etc.” It is fascinating and it is one that you’ll need to read up on because my brain could not absorb much more information at this point. I would say, 500 years of history in this one shot.

It was a very hot day here in Rome, so after seeing all this we made our way to a fabulous little restaurant where your’s truly enjoyed some nice meatballs, a salad, fresh bread, white wine, and lots and lots of water. We then took a short walk to the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains Church) where we saw the chains that bound Peter while he was in prison in Rome and the Moses by Michelangelo. You’ll notice that Moses has horns. We know that when Moses came down off the mountain he was radiating the light of God so that the people asked him to cover his face. They were afraid of what they saw. However, at the time, the Hebrew was incorrectly translated. Turns out, “radiated light” and “grew horns” are almost exactly the same in Hebrew. Guess which translation Michelangelo was working from.

The above were amazing to see, but what caught my eye across the aisle (we were ushered out pretty quickly as a wedding was about to start) was this fantastic image of Death. If you ain’t got Jesus, you better start making plans to meet this fella!

At this point we were all done, so we took the cab back home. After a few minutes of rest, I remembered that I had not gotten my Rosary in for the day, so walked about a half a block to the church on the street we are staying to the Piazza di San Salvatore in Lauro only to discover that in one of the side altars were some amazing relics of Saint Padre Pio and another with a few vestments and a white zucchetto belonging to Saint John Paul II. To be near JPII and to pray the Rosary with Padre Pio was a very moving experience. I have truly been near and prayed with the mortal remains of all my heroes of the Church with the exception of my friend Thomas a Kempis. (Guess I’ll eventually have to take a trip to the Netherlands for that… challenge accepted!)

There are two days remaining here in Rome. Tomorrow we’ve plans to attend church then off we’ll go again. I’m not sure where we’ll end up, but I’ll be sure and share the details.

Blessings to you all.

J+

Travel: Italy (Days Ten and Eleven)

The last two days have been remarkable in all that I’ve seen but also in who I’ve been “with”.

We began yesterday with a taxi ride that took us about 3 miles from our apartment to the Borghese Museum and you’re thinking, “How fabulous,” but I left Heidi and Scott to view the magnificent pieces there, because I was on a mission. I continued on northwest for another mile, which led me through the park and then a very upscale neighborhood and finally to Our Lady of Peace, Prelatic Church of Opus Dei. Entering, I took one flight of stairs down and came to the chapel where the mortal remains of St. Josemaria Escriva are held until the Great Day or Our Lord.

I went up and sat on the right at the front and spent time in prayer with this great Saint and then prayed my Rosary.

After my time here, I headed back to the museum to meet my friends and then take another cab ride (about three miles) to the Appia Antica Caffe for lunch and then a walk down the Appian Way to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.

The Appian Way was one of the earliest Roman roads and very strategic with construction beginning around the year 312 b.c. The stones you see here are the original and in places you can see where the ruts have cut into them. It is also very likely that Peter and Paul would have traveled this very road and also where Peter is said to have had a vision of Jesus and asked him, “Domine quo Vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”) You’ll be able to find the entire story if you don’t already know it.

The road led us to the Catacombs where we took the tour leading us down into the tombs. Until Constantine was Emperor, Christians were not allowed to be buried inside the city walls, so the catacombs provided such a place. There are no pictures allowed, so I’ve pulled some from the internet. There are 12 km of tunnels under the church and an estimated 65,000 people were buried here. I couldn’t help myself from touching the walls and soil. Many of the people buried here were some of the earliest Christians in Rome. In addition, when the barbarians were sacking Rome, the remains of both Peter and Paul were brought to these catacombs for safekeeping. We know this because of the graffiti on the walls, many of which reference the two Apostles… amazing!

Finally, another taxi took us to the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and the tomb of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. I could not believe how empty the church was compared to the Vatican, but it does require a bit of an effort to get to. You are able to see exactly where Paul was buried.

That’s me about to get my head lopped off by Paul.

I was fascinated with the columns in this place.

That ended our day with the exception of a really nice meal out and when in Italy you’ve got to eat Italian and the Ravioli and wine were wonderful.

Today was another early day and I went back to the Vatican for the tour of the dome. Heidi and Scott had taken this one before, so we went in different directions.

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about this because of the number of steps involved and I do confess to being a wee bit winded at the top, but I did make it and the view was spectacular.

This is a view from the lower rim of the dome looking through a wire safety mesh into the church below.

After coming back down, I had one final stop to make and after a little research last night, I knew where to find him: Pope John Paul II. You come across the tombs of so many great people, but then, like with Escriva, you come across one of your heroes and the world kind of stops.

The Rosary meant so much to him that today I stopped in the midst of all the crowds and prayed mine. So moving to be so close.

At this point my legs were jello and the crowds were massive, so I made my way back to the apartment where I’ve spent the remainder of the day napping and reading. I’m fixing supper tonight, so I’m off to do that, but one final thought: I keep talking about praying with these great Saints, but remember that some of the other great saints are your friends and your family. Take time to pray with them as well.

I’ve no idea what’s on the radar for tomorrow, so it will be a surprise to us all. Blessings.

J+

Travel: Italy (Day Nine)

Today was the Vatican and there was so much that it is difficult to know where to begin. The morning was a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and the afternoon was a tour of the Scavi (below the main altar of St. Peter’s). You are not allowed to take pictures of the Sistine or the Scavi, so the ones I have were pulled from the internet. I just want to show you what I saw and will comment a few times along the way.

The room dedicated to the pronouncement of the Immaculate Conception of Mary along with the supporting documents in multiple languages.
Look closely and you will see the conquest of Christianity over paganism.
The Transfiguration by Raphael. You see Jesus being transfigured in the upper half and the boy who was demon possessed in the lower right that Jesus would come and heal following the Transfiguration. The Disciples are on the bottom left and were unable to heal the boy.
The Sistine Chapel… “Can we talk?” There is so much more going on here than I was aware of. Our tour guide was brilliant in helping me to understand parts of it, but it is definitely worth more time in study. Jesus, Moses, Heaven, hell, Saints, Prophets… I was not here long enough to pray my Rosary but I prayed as much of it as I could before we were ushered out. Yes… I prayed a Rosary in the Sistine Chapel and I felt it. Amazing.

I exited the Vatican at this point and hooked up with Heidi and Scott for lunch. Lunch was nothing to take a picture of but it did fill the hungry zone. We wandered for an hour and then returned to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Necropolis (aka – Scavi). These are the catacombs below St. Peter’s that go back to the time before Christ and come forward to the time of Constantine.

It is a fascinating piece of history where you can begin to see the transition from Paganism to Christianity, but after walking through the narrow hallways and low arches…

…you arrive at a darker area where you peer through glass to a small niche about ten feet away and there in an unadorned brass/bronze box are twenty-two bones belonging to The Rock, St. Peter. The inscription above reads, Petros Eni (Greek) translated, “Peter Lies Within”. I teared up then and I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. Catholic/Protestant, the roots of our Faith are rooted deeply in this place.

We returned through to the surface by walking through the grotto where the remains of so many Popes are in interned and came into the Basilica of St. Peter. It is just… I got nothin’. I’m so glad that I get to go back on Friday because I just wasn’t ready to take more in. I was spiritually fried after being so close to one who had been so near to Jesus.

Tomorrow will likely prove to be as moving. I will be visiting the tomb of St. Josemaria Escriva in the morning and St. Paul in the afternoon. I’ll think about that then. For now, I will leave you with a picture of the Queen who is apparently doing quite well.

St. Peter may have his throne but this Queen is the one that currently rules. She is eating well and doing well.

May the Lord bless you all.

Travel: Italy (Day Seven & Eight)

Yesterday was a day of travel from Florence to Rome via Italo (train), fun, and food. It is about a two hour ride, so once we arrived we took a cab to the VRBO and this one was an upgrade over the last (although the last was nice).

During the cab ride, I did “cross the Tiber” but was only there a short while before darting back across another bridge. We then went out in search of fun and food and found both. In the process, I got myself a bit of Italian ink, but you’ll just have to wait to see that one. Dinner was at a restaurant recommended by Enid friends and they were so right! Ristorante Ambasciata D’Abruzzo. Delicious. We had a nice bottle of wine and I ordered the lamb. Should you find yourself in Rome, don’t miss out.

It was early to bed so that we could be up and out the door by 7:30 this morning. At that time of the morning, the streets are clear and the sky is so blue. The fountains are the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. The water is clean enough to drink and was one of the main source of water for the people early on.

There’s not much that I can add about this next place: the Pantheon. It is massive and imposing and beautiful and in the midst of it all there is holiness and simplicity. Each column is a single piece of marble that was brought up from southern Egypt. They are each 39 nine feet tall and weigh 60 tons apiece. The height to the oculus (hole in the ceiling) and the diameter of the base of the dome are equal: 142 feet. From that distance, the oculus looks small, but it is 30 feet in diameter.

Leaving this place we walked a few blocks and came across an elephant. A Bernini elephant with an obelisk on its back. I found the right spot for the sun.

Confession: there is a street in Rome that has multiple clergy candy shops and I bought some candy: a new zucchetto in the store where the Pope and Cardinals (and all the lesser folk) shop and a bit further down came to a smaller shop and picked up a VERY nice handmade cassock at a very reasonable price. For the record, I’ll now have to purchase another inexpensive suitcase and check my bags. Poor baby… I know.

This was followed by a two hour lunch which was delicious and then on to the Francesi (another beautiful church) where I saw the Caravaggio’s of Matthew. I’ve studied these paintings in the past, so it was moving to see them in person.

I forget when (maybe after the Pantheon) I stopped in Stan’Ignazio of Loyola Church and after looking around for a bit, stopped here and prayed my Rosary for the day. At first it was noisy, but then the voices receded and there was peace.

Up until this point I have been very intentional in not looking for the Vatican. I don’t want simply a glimpse. I want to take it all in at once and tomorrow is the day. I will cross over the Tiber River via the Ponte Sant’Angelo (The Bridge of Angels) built in 136 a.d. and adorned with angels sculpted by Bernini. Once across, I will turn left and look up and I will see. My tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel begin at 7 a.m. so I’m off.

Have a wonderful and peaceful night.

Travel: Italy (Day Six)

We opted to ease into the day and did not start rolling until around 10:30, which I thought was just fine because Heidi was determined to go and visit a garden today. Growing up, I saw plenty of gardens but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

There was a Caravaggio in a museum that Heidi wanted to see but today I was more interested in breakfast, so while they trekked off to the museum I looked for the all American breakfast and I found it at Pizzeria Toto atto II: The Fiortenia (tomato, fiordilatte, Tuscan Salami and Pecorino Toscano.) Deliciousness!

Afterwards I made my way to the gardens, anticipating a certain bored contentment. I was very wrong and I should have known that I would be wrong since Heidi was so keen on going. Had she mentioned or had I done any homework I would’ve known that the gardens began in the 15th centuries and would later become the personal gardens of the Medici family. They were expanded on by following dynasties to eleven acres. Essentially, the gardens are the backyard of the Pallazo Pitti, the home purchased by Cosimo I de’ Medici. We put in at least 8,000 steps and didn’t see half.

There are fountains of Neptune, an amphitheater, countless statues, large green spaces, tree arched walkways, a small manmade island, etc, but is the all the flowers and plants that you have come to see. These are just a few.

Orange trees.

The gardens and ponds were works of art.

By the end I was so tired that I just had to ride my turtle home.

We are back home and it is late afternoon. We’ve been staying out much later but this evening we have to pack. Tomorrow we have a 10:45 a.m. train taking us to that place where all roads lead…

Looks like I’ll be crossing the Tiber after all. 😉

Travel: Italy (Day Five)

Today began early with a cup of coffee on the roof and then a cab ride to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The church opened 30 minutes later than we thought, so we opted for a cappuccino and croissant at La Bottega where I suddenly began channeling St. Francis of Assisi.

We then made our way into the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and museum. Here we saw some beautiful pieces of art including a “crossover” piece from the middle-ages to the Renaissance, which began to bring depth to the images. The one below of the Holy Trinity is the best example and the most studied.

After seeing so much, I took the time to pray the Rosary in a chapel that is not intended for tourist but for praying: the Capella della Pura (Chapel of the Pure). I don’t know how pure I am but I did feel peace. I was the only one there. Imagine having this place to yourself!

We then made our way to the Duomo museum. This is the stage where I am beginning to be overwhelmed by all that I am seeing. I walk up to one piece that is so remarkable that it has no effect on me and then see another and am on the verge of tears. The one thing that floored me had to be pointed out by Scott. It is the beheading of John the Baptist. It really took my breath away and I don’t know why. It was just so…

Here was also an unfinished Pieta by Michelangelo. You can see the rough bits along with those that are more polished. It is Nicodemus who is standing behind Mary and his face is a self portrait of Michelangelo. How wonderful to have it as is but how amazing to have had him finish! Man proposes and God disposes.

And then I discovered the room of relics (there were many more than what are shown below). I’ll let you decide the authenticity of these, but… yeah… I believe. Perhaps they are not but the prayers that have been gathered around these over the centuries are very authentic. You can feel them and enter into them.

After fighting some crowds and trying to return something from shopping the day before, we decided that it was more than time for a break, so we headed up to the roof of a shop (5th floor) and ordered a tasty beverage. Yes! America needs this. A bar in the shopping centers. Scott took this photo while I was apparently deep in thought and contemplating the reliquary of my own finger bone (I’m guessing it will be in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar known only by Carnac the Magnificent and kept on the porch of Funk and Wagnall’s until someone pitches it in the burn barrel.)

The remainder of the day was spent in fulfilling Heidi’s ultimate game plan: shopping. And it was great fun. I haven’t found anything that I absolutely must have, but am truly waiting for Roma to make whatever purchase that might be. I may then need my own cargo plane in order to get it all home.

My dogs were barking something fierce by then so I let Heidi and Scott continue to wander along while I stopped at Le volpi e l’uva for a glass of Chianti. I sat at the back and glared at everyone coming in so that they thought better of sitting next to me. It worked for about five minutes (note to self: work on Italian glare).

At the end of the shopping extravaganza, we stopped at to Toscanella Osteria for dinner where I had “The Duck” and the dang duck was delicious. We were fat and happy enough at this point and a mile from home, so we ended the day the way we began, “Taxi!”

Dormi bene. Sognare bei sogni.

Travel: Italy (Day Four)

We woke up to another glorious day in Florence, Italy and were out and about shortly after 8 a.m. We had somewhere to be: Formaggioteca Terroir. Nice name for a wine and cheese shop but also the starting place for our tour of two Chianti vineyards in Tuscany.

We, along with five others (all from the USA), all piled into a nice air-conditioned van and headed south into Tuscany. You leave the city behind fairly quickly and begin to make the climb up to cooler air. You see vineyards spotted throughout, then come into the country where every hillside is bright green with grape leaves.

At this time of the year, the grapes have not yet flowered and the buds are about 1/2 the size of a peppercorn. Later this summer the grapes will be heavy on the vines and ready for harvest. Seeing it all brings special meaning to, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

The first of the vineyards we visited was Fattoria Cortana e Paterno. It was a lower altitude giving it slightly warmer temperatures than the second vineyard we visited, meaning they would be harvesting a few weeks earlier.

Picture from their website.

We were treated to four different wines from a nice bright white to a dry red. They paired it with some nice cheeses, bread, honey they produced, and a caramelized onion chutney that I had to buy a jar of before leaving. The wine was remarkable!

From here we made our way further up into the hills and came to the restaurant owned and operated by Dario Cecchini. I did not know of him beforehand, but the New York Times describes him as “The most famous butcher in the world.” He is the “butcher-poet”. The warning for those entering his restaurant, “ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER, FOR YOU ARE NOW IN THE HANDS OF A BUTCHER.” Beef, pork, grilled, stewed, boiled… oh, my.

From here we rolled ourselves back into the van and climbed further into the Tuscan hills and arrived at Poggio al Sole. Can I just say, “These places will make you very happy!” The owners/managers/servers seem to truly love not only the wine but the people who come to taste it and celebrate it. Stephanie, the daughter-in-law of the owner, showed us around the grounds and the cellar and Carmen (with the most brilliant Italian accent) told us all about the wine and what made it so special.

Downloaded from their Facebook Page.

On the way back down the mountain, we made two brief stops. The first was to the Abbey of Saint Michele Arcangelo is located in the town of Passignano. The religious community was established here around the year 1000.

The final stop was at the Piazzale Michelangelo which provided a stunning view of the city of Florence.

Walking home, I came across the same street artist that I saw yesterday. I walked away, but said if I see it again, I’ll get it. I saw it again…

Acrylic on canvas.

Blessings to you all and may your wine be as good as mine!

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