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!