24 November 2014

Italy 2014: More Maps

Well, I kind of went map-happy this morning, and came up with four (!) more to illustrate the pilgrimage last month.  Here they are:

For general orientation, this puts north-central Italy into its overall context, with our final driving routes indicated.

21 November 2014

Italy 2014 Map of Pilgrimage Sites in Rome

Here is a map I just made to illustrate where the various places we saw in Rome are located.  "Pilgrimage sites" does not, of course, mean that they are all religious in nature.  They are just the various major locations that we went in Rome while on the Pilgrimage.  At some time in the near future I will go back and link and key those last three days (Sunday through Tuesday) so readers can easily jump to the map if they want. 

A.     Hotel Cicerone
B.     St. Mary Major
C.     The Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Vatican Museums
D.    The Catacombs of St. Calixtus
E.     The Pantheon
F.     Piazza Navona
G.    St. Paul Outside the Walls
H.    St. John Lateran
I.       The Trevi Fountain
J.      The Colosseum
K.     St. Peter in Chains

Source of Original:  http://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/rome-i-la-r.htm, accessed 21 November 2014

02 November 2014

Italy 2014 Day 10 – Wednesday 29 October

A very happy cat.
This day full of good-byes began earlier than ever:  Wake-up at 04:30.  We’d had to have our large bags outside the rooms the evening before by 23:00, and assembled to leave the Hotel Cicerone at 05:30, with brown bag breakfasts.  Luigi drove us down to the Da Vinci Airport, and for all that it was a long, long day, there’s not much to say about it.  The flights went off without a hitch, from Rome to Atlanta (along the way I caught my only-ever glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea and the snow-covered Alps), thence to Dallas, with various groups and individuals peeling off toward their own destinations (such as the group from south Louisiana and the pair from Little Rock) along the way, and then the final long bus-ride home, arriving back in Natchitoches at about 01:30 on what was properly Thursday 30 October.  At which time it was about 07:30 Thursday morning in Rome, and we’d been traveling approximately 26 hours!

The MBIC Pilgrimage to Italy 2014 came to an end.  Deo Gratias.

Italy 2014 Day 09 – Tuesday 28 October

The Basilica of St. John Lateran
Our last full day in Rome – and it was full – began with a relatively late wake-up at 07:00, 08:00 breakfast, to be met by Roberta in the lobby, thence immediately onto the bus for the drive to St. John Lateran, the last of the four Major Basilicas of Rome we would visit on our pilgrimage [LINK].  It is the oldest of the Basilicas, the first in rank (thus formally called the “Archbasilica of St. John Lateran”), indeed, the oldest surviving church in the West.  It, moreover – not St. Peter’s – serves as the Pope’s cathedral in his capacity as Bishop of Rome.

Constantine the Great
The Basilica as a church building goes back to the very time of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in the early 4th century, when it was given by him to the Pope – but it is in fact much more ancient than that, being part of the complex making up the extensive Palace of the Lateran branch of the Sextian family, one of the more ancient families in Rome.  (Among the early notables was Lucius Sextius Lateranus of Licinian-Sextian Law fame and first plebeian Consul in the 4th century BC).  Constantine had inherited the Lateran Palace by marriage, but from the early 4th century AD it would serve as the usual Papal residence through most of the Middle Ages, undergoing the usual periodic restorations after fires or earthquakes, such as in the 10th century, before being magnificently embellished by Pope Innocent III in the early 13th century.  There, of course, in 1215, Innocent would preside over one of the four most important Ecumenical Councils in the history of the Church, Lateran IV.  Then an extended period of vacancy in the 14th century during the Avignon Papacy (1305-1378) would leave it in near ruins to be rebuilt yet again.  The Basilica also suffered during that period, to be rebuilt and embellished over the course of centuries once the Popes had returned to Rome.  The modern façade was designed by Allessandro Galilei (related to Galileo, but a century later), “remov[ing] all vestiges of the ancient basilica architecture, and impart[ing] a new-classical façade” [op. cit.].  Nevertheless, some elements of the most ancient structures were preserved throughout, including the Scala Sancta … but we’ll get to that.

01 November 2014

Italy 2014 Day 08 – Monday 27 October

Traditional Latin Mass in St. Peter's Basilica
(Picture by Ashley Hebert)
The wake-up call came early today – 05:30, for 06:30 breakfast and 07:15 bus departure for the Vatican City, the temporal center of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.  The Vatican is kind of like Florence – where to start?  Well, here’s the gist:  Vatican City is a walled, independent city-state completely surrounded by the city of Rome.  It comprises an area of about 110 acres, with a population under a thousand, ruled by the Pope.  It’s located on the right side of the Tiber River, across the river from the Seven Hills of Ancient Rome, on the Vatican Hill and surrounding once-marshy fields abutting the Janiculum Hill.  This walled area is all that’s left of over a thousand years when the Popes were temporal as well as spiritual leaders in central Italy, much of which comprised the Papal States.  In 1861, all of Italy save Rome was united by the King of Sardinia into the modern Kingdom of Italy; the Popes lost all except the city itself.  Then, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, France withdrew its troops which had been protecting Rome’s independence, and the Popes lost Rome.  They withdrew within the walls of the Vatican, not to emerge for almost sixty years, until the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini secured the status of the Vatican as an independent state.  St. Peter’s Basilica, the most important of the four Major Basilicas of Rome, fronted by the great Square with the sweeping colonnades, is only a small part of the complex, which contains much more – residences for the functionaries of the Holy See, offices, chapels, museums, libraries, gardens – only a fraction of which were we able to see in our day there.

Italy 2014 Day 07 – Sunday 26 October

Anne's good camera, steadied by my shoulder
Oh blessed day!  A week earlier than in the US, Italian clocks “fell back” overnight.  So we got an extra hour of sleep! – And get to do it again back home next weekend!  I generally disapprove of "Daylight Savings Time" which puts our clocks an hour out of sync with the sun for about two-thirds of the year, but man! I do like "Fall Back Weekend"!

And the wake-up call came a little later by the clock, as well – 06:15 for a 07:15-ish breakfast.  Although the spread was every bit as good as we’d had before (and the bacon was, well, infinitely better), I can’t say I liked the regimented way Hotel Cicerone did things – they had to confirm your room number and directed you toward specific tables, not always seeming to follow any pattern.  I guess it’s related to something said by one of the padres a few days before – the main rule in Italy is that the rules don’t seem to make any sense, and they change for no apparent reason on a daily basis.  Anyway, we started assembling about 08:00 for the bus to depart at 08:15 for Sunday Mass.

31 October 2014

Italy 2014 Day 06 – Saturday 25 October

Last view of Florence
Wake-up was slightly later – 06:30 – with our bags to be out in the hallway for 07:30, the same time as breakfast.  
Chapel of the Blessed
Sacrament, Church of
Santa Maria Novella
At 08:30, we walked from the hotel to the nearby church of Santa Maria Novella, where Fr. Chris said Mass in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. 
The Uffizi Gallery

Isabella met up with us again afterward, and we walked to the Uffizi Gallery just off the Piazza della Signoria [LINK].  What was built in the 16th century to be offices (Uffizi) for Florentine city officials very early became a show-house for artistic treasures accumulated by the Medici family who dominated those offices and which were ultimately bequeathed to the city by the last Medici heiress in the 17th century.  Our group of 46 then split up into two smaller groups to tour the repository of some of the most famous paintings and statues in the world [Virtual tour:  LINK].  We followed Isabella.  Once again, a couple of hours was not nearly enough time.  It was downright frustrating, in fact, the one constant albeit inevitable aspect of this journey.  Anne and I took far too many pictures to incorporate even a fraction here; I will post a number at the bottom of this entry.

30 October 2014

Italy 2014 Day 05 – Friday 24 October

Michelangelo's David
We were up no earlier, at 06:00, but more rushed as we had to set our suitcases outside the rooms by 06:45.  Then it was down to breakfast for 07:00 and assembling in the lobby to leave the Hotel Giotto at 08:00 to walk down to the bus park.  And so our time in Assisi came to an end.  I think everyone on the pilgrimage agreed that it was the high point of the trip – quieter, less crowded, not a bit less rushed but altogether more enjoyable than the rest of our time in Italy.  That extended from the religious sights we attended to the hotel itself, which had a quaint character that was lacking from our domiciles in Florence and Rome.  Especially with regard to the common meals we enjoyed in the hotels’ respective restaurants, Giotto far outstripped either the Croce di Malta in Florence or the Hotel Cicerone in Rome in both food and hospitality.  But we could not stay in Assisi forever.

Tuscan countryside
The drive from Assisi to Florence was a bit more than two hours.  Even the Tuscan countryside sported extensively rugged hills – really mountains – that I had not expected.  Florence itself [LINK] is pretty flat, in a valley on the Arno River, surrounded by highlands.  I don’t know where to start regarding Florence – it is such a historically and culturally significant city – so I’ll confine myself to a few random and general facts and observations.  The name in Italian is actually Firenze, so it’s a bit more different from what we’re used to in English than is Rome (Roma), but the meaning is the same, the City of Flowers, and the symbol is one we’re all familiar with in Louisiana – the lily that the French call fleur-de-lys.  Founded as a Roman city by the Dictator Sulla in 80 BC, the city’s real importance commenced a thousand years later, when it became a center of medieval cloth manufacture, trade, and finance.  Its importance became incalculable as the birthplace and epicenter of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, more or less concurrent with the rise of the Medici family of clothiers-become-bankers to political dominance which they would maintain for about three hundred years.  It eventually would serve a brief stint as one of the several successive capitals of the Kingdom of Italy in the 1860s.  Its cultural importance is highlighted by the fact that the Tuscan dialect became the standard for modern Italian.  [There are a number of Virtual Tours:  LINK]

Italy 2014 Day 04 – Thursday 23 October

I Pellegrini 
(Photo provided by Rick Johnson, taken by Alexis Darbonne)
(Larger at bottom with key)
[Well, from the lateness of this post you can see that my ambition of “live-blogging” this trip with daily updates ended up being a bust.  As I’ve mentioned already, one of the trade-offs of being part of a packaged trip like this and thus not having to worry about arrangements and so forth, just be where they said when they said – and this trip went off virtually flawlessly in that respect – is being on someone else’s schedule, and they drove us pretty hard.  It had to be that way, I understand, to get in all the things we wanted to do.  But by the end of each day mental as well as bodily weariness made it virtually impossible to think coherent thoughts much less compose an extended narrative.  A substantial three-course dinner, with wine, did not help the cause of blogging.  I did good to get notes jotted down in my pocket journal.  So I’m actually “back-writing” this – on the plane, just out of Rome, on the morning of Wednesday 29 October, just out of Italian air-space over the south of France!  Nevertheless, I’m going to write each day’s entry as if I were more timely … as I wanted to be!]

24 October 2014

Italy 2014 Day 03 – Wednesday 22 October

The Cross from San Damiano,
currently in the Church of Saint Clare
Our wake-up call came at 06:30 to be ready for breakfast at 07:30 and departure from the lobby at 08:30.  Breakfast was meats, cheese, and bread, in addition to more American staples like scrambled eggs, bacon, and cereal.  Plus a coffee machine, juices, and fruits.  From the lobby we walked uphill (everything seems to be uphill in Assisi!) to the Basilica of St. Francis, the mother church of the Franciscan order.  (Virtual tours:  LINK)  

The Basilica of
San Francesco
Built into the side of a hill, the Basilica contains two churches – the Upper Church and the Lower Church – in addition to the real tomb of St. Francis in a crypt below.  Because of the danger the saint’s relics would be absconded with by a rival town (such as Assisi’s traditional enemy, Perugia), although the Lower Church was specifically built to house a magnificent shrine for St. Francis the actual relics were hidden below, and ultimately forgotten only to be rediscovered in the 19th century!  [Thu 10/23 08:30 … I found I could not type on a moving bus…]  The three are literally stacked one atop the other!

We heard Mass in the Franciscan brothers’ chapel, also known as the "Peace Chapel," said this time by Fr. Ryan assisted by Fr. Chris – our first time ever hearing the Mass celebrating the new Feast of St. John Paul II the Great. 
The Franciscan Brothers' Chapel

21 October 2014

Italy 2014 Day 02 – Tuesday 21 October

We landed at the Rome airport – actually Leonardo da Vinci International Airport at Fiumicino, down on the coast near Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber River, ten or twelve miles from Rome itself – at about 07:10 local time.  By 08:40 we had finished passport control and claimed our baggage, and met our Italian “escort,” Debra  actually a British expatriate married to an Italian – who works with Magnificat Tours.  She had us on the bus and headed to our first destination, Assisi, the home of St. Francis, by 09:30.  Our bus-driver for the entire trip will be one Luigi.  We are a total of 46 pilgrims, mostly from Louisiana – Natchitoches with Fr. Ryan Humphries of the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception; a group from Vacherie with his friend Fr. Chris Decker of Baton Rouge; and a few outliers from Lafayette, New Orleans, and even a father and son from Little Rock, Arkansas.  And Alexis, the representative from Magnificat.

Italy 2014 Day 01 – Monday 20 October

My view for about ten hours...
Well, the long-awaited day finally came … very early.  Actually, with packing and preparing for the trip, we barely got to sleep at all.  I hadn’t actually intended to sleep at all, but I couldn’t sleep as late as I wanted to Sunday morning, and after about 18 hours with my contacts in, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  And by about 01:30 we were both pretty much done, so out my contacts went, and out we went … sort of.  I kept thinking of things until my alarm went off at 02:30, when up we came, in my contacts went again, and by about 02:50 we were in the car headed for St. Mary’s School.

To make a long story short, we got to the school, got our luggage on the bus, heard Mass in the chapel promptly at 03:15, and were rolling out of Natchitoches right on time at 04:00.  With one stop along the way – by the way, Exit 571A, Texas Best Smokehouse, has a great breakfast! – we got into DFW only a few minutes late (I didn’t note the time).  We met up with the Magnificat representative accompanying us for the pilgrimage, Alexis Darbonne, who gave us our etickets.  TSA was typically … impatient (I don’t want Homeland Security paying me a visit!), but now at approx. 10:00 we are sitting at gate E17 waiting for a 10:50 flight to Atlanta.  [20 Oct 10:07 CDT].

To make a much longer story short [because it kind of is a blur at this point, Tuesday evening] our flights to Atlanta (where the non-Natchitoches pilgrims joined us) and thence to Rome went great.  I actually slept about four hours on the latter, which didn’t keep me from being exhausted through the day on Tuesday ….

One note:  There were obviously many other pilgrim groups on the flight from Atlanta to Rome, and at least a dozen priests and religious, including (we discovered in the Rome airport), Fr. Z who did our parish mission in March [LINK].  We felt very safe on that flight!

21 September 2014

Final Pilgrimage Meeting (Tues 09 Sep)

Based on the new itinerary
I really should have written something before now.  But this semester is turning out to be more day-to-day work than I anticipated, considering I am teaching mostly on-line classes and not face-to-face, to accommodate being out of the classroom for effectively two weeks.  Of course, it was supposed to be entirely on-line, with no face-to-face, but early in the summer I was told we must offer at least one f2f section of the World Civ survey for incoming freshmen.  And that means I’m not entirely out of the classroom this semester, which would have been weird anyway.  I have a plan to cover the material during the period of my absence, so everything’s hunky-dory there. 

Nevertheless, in typical Absent-minded Professor fashion, in anticipation of an “easier” semester, I had already decided to put all that “free time” to good use in much-needed overhauls of two of my classes … and that’s turning out to be more complicated in the case of one of them than I really expected.  It’s amazing how much of my material throughout the semester is integrated – content, exercises, and so forth – so that changing something here necessitates adjusting something there … and there … and there … and discovering that to do this at some point later in the semester necessitates me having done that sometime earlier to properly set it up.  No wonder you hear the tales of the older professors whose lecture notes haven’t changed in forty years!

30 July 2014

Update ... The Final Toll

Just a short update here -- two items.  

First, about a month or so ago Magnificat Travel announced the "final" meeting* with us pilgrims (I hear John Wayne's voice whenever I think of us that way [LINK]) before our departure.  It will be in the MBIC Parish Hall on Tuesday 9 September at 18:00.  Only a few days before that announcement, I had inquired via email if they could give out any more specific information as to our itinerary, i.e., what order we will be visiting the various destinations, how long we will stay at each, etc.  Anne is really wanting to 'net-scout places for lunch (with the help of Rick Steves' travel guides, of course).  Lunch is the only meal each day that is not part of the package, which means we're on our own.  The answer was that that will be part of the meeting.  Grrr.  As of today, the pilgrimage page at Magnificat [LINK] doesn't have any more specific information either.  Surely they have worked that out by now.  I figure this is probably a standardized, package tour, but maybe I'm wrong.

Second, today we got emails with the final toll for the trip.  As mentioned in my first post [LINK] -- so long ago now, it seems -- even though we paid in full up front last October, at that time there was still a $400-$750 "airline fees and taxes" assessment to be made.  Per person, of course.  Well, as I figured, it ends up being at the high end of that range -- $728.47.  So we owe just shy of another $1500.  

So here's the total pilgrimage cost for us two:

$2799 base price per person
+ 225 insurance
- 150 discount for paying in full by check
x 2 persons
$5748 total paid


$728.47 taxes and fees, per person
x 2 persons
$1456.94 to be paid by 15 August

$7204.94 GRAND TOTAL

Still a good deal for two persons, I know ... but ... owww!

It will be worth it, of course.  In truth, what we are getting is priceless.



* I put "final" in quotations because it's only the second meeting.

15 March 2014

Magnificat Travels' Webpage for MBIC Pilgrimage

I'm not sure how long this might have been up, perhaps for months, but today I went to Magnificat Travels' web site and found that they have added a page specific to the Basilican pilgrimage [link].  Exploring similar pages for other trips found that some have more detailed day-by-day itineraries, so it may be that as they firm up the specifics for our own they will update the information there.  

Other than that, Anne and I have just been looking forward to the trip, and occasionally reminding each other that "It's only x months now!"  I've been working with Duolingo (previous post [link]), which I continue to be incredibly impressed with.  Anne's sister-in-law has used Rosetta Stone software before, and says that Duolingo is remarkably similar.  Except that it's free!  I'm supposed to be working on losing weight and getting into better shape, too.  That hasn't been going so well, though.


17 January 2014

Learning Italian

Meet my new best friend! – the Duolingo owl.

I haven't posted since the opening post [link], and don't expect to post very frequently for some months yet, because frankly not much is happening on our end toward the pilgrimage. I did purchase Rick Steve's Italy 2014 a couple of months ago, and have skimmed in it from time to time, including putting little thumb-tab markers on the sections having to do with our destinations, and Anne has done quite a bit of Internet research on the places we will be going – a lot of Youtube videos posted by other travellers – but beyond that basically at this point we've paid our money and are just in the “process” of THE LONG WAIT. Yes, anticipation is growing, slowly, and I trust that behind the scenes Magnificat is doing all kinds of work toward our trip, but other than that....