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Archive for the ‘Italy 2016’ Category

The taxi had dropped us a couple of blocks away from the Campo dei Miracoli.  He had brought us from the airport through the streets of Pisa, across the Arno river, then on more narrow roads until it made no sense to go any further. He had talked non-stop since picking us up, offering suggestions on how to spend our time and telling me, in answer to my query on his excellent English, that twenty years ago he had thought he would leave Italy for the United States, but, his voice trailed off to say, it hadn’t worked out. It was too bad, he said, for over there, you get paid more money and things cost less. Here we get paid less, and it costs so much more to live.

It was not hard to find the Field of Miracles after that, for all we had to do was follow the crowd, and once we arrived, that is what hit us. That: so many…people. And two other things: it’s going to rain and we don’t have an umbrella and it really does lean.

And it does. The Leaning Tower of Pisa really does lean, and it is much more dramatic in person than in photographs, since the straight right angles of the rest of the world are so much more present in contrast.

Even in the rain, even before the height of tourist season, so many people. Look at all of them.  Why are they here? To see an iconic image – and it is fun to be there with everyone else, most of us experiencing it for the first and probably only time in your life – that sense of community you experience in tourism. We are here, you are here, seeing this thing, and together we will remember it too and you – speaking English, Italian, German, French, Japanese, Madarin, Hindi..you’ll be a part of the remembering. I won’t just remember a white tower of marble. I’ll remember drizzle and security guards and the child scampering ahead of me and the older couple puffing behind me as we trudge up, leaning.

So yes, there we were. As we finished with the tower and moved to the church and then the baptistery, I was struck by what these crowds were about on this spot. They were walking around and in, studying, photographing and contemplating just those things: a church. A baptistery. And a tower with bells that for centuries had called not tourists, but worshippers and seekers, not just to see and gawk, but to be. To be with.

I thought of the other sights we had seen over the past three weeks – this was our last night in Italy.  All of the crowds we had joined, all the tickets we had purchased and photographs we had taken? Most of them had been of places where people had been baptized, where they had come to seek what is real, to connect with it, to have hope. All of these places had been heavy with images, and not just any images, and really the same images from place to place: Jesus hanging on a cross. Disciples following, listening. Saints gazing out, looking up, reaching. All of these had been places where even now, people touched by the hands of others who had been, back in the mists of history, touched by the apostles in the stained glass windows still talked about that Jesus. Even now, in most of those places, seekers still came to meet that Jesus hanging on a cross, to find life in his life, offered to them to eat and drink.

People don’t come to church anymore.

But they do, don’t they?

I travel a lot, and everywhere I travel, I end up in churches, for there are churches everywhere. The United States is not as heavy with historical and artistically-significant churches as Europe is, of course, but still, in every major city, you’ll find a downtown Catholic church or two of historical import.

And most of the time, you will find scores of people streaming in and out of that church during the day, perhaps even hundreds.

People don’t come to church anymore.

A few weeks ago, we were in New Orleans, and the scene I witnessed there is similar to what I’ve witnessed in other American Catholic Churches of this type.

It’s St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, as iconic as they come. We popped in mid-day on a Saturday, and of course we were not alone. Dozens were in and out during the short time we were in there. A small group was being led on a tour by a Cathedral docent. It was a busy place.

People don’t come to church anymore.

What struck me, as it does in most similar situations, was the absence of printed materials that would help people understand the building. (Not to speak of actual human beings there to welcome and answer questions) There was a trifold pamphlet available for a dollar that had the most basic information about the building, but no detailed guides to the interior, to explanations of symbolism or structures.

It’s astonishing to me.

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

I think every church should have the materials I’m about to suggest – every one – but particularly churches that experience a lot of tourism. There’s no excuse not to have these. None. Not if you are serious about evangelization, that is. Not if you really and actually believe the stuff.

  1. A detailed guide of the historic and artistic aspects of the building.
  2. A guide identifying the important aspects of the structure and interior and explaining their meaning. As in: statues, crucifix, tabernacle, altar, confessionals, baptismal and holy water fonts, candles, altar rail, episcopal chair, choir stalls…whatever you’ve got. Explain it.
  3. A basket of rosaries. Holy cards, at the very least, and possibly medals related to the church’s patron saint.
  4. Copies of the New Testament, or at least the Gospels.
  5. Lots of bulletins or other parish information, presented with a welcoming “y’all come back!” and “let us know if you need anything” sensibility.

And yes, all of this should be free.  And there should be  a person sitting at a table with a smile on his or her face, answering questions. All day.

Listen. When have a parish of a thousand families, are thrilled when thirty adults show up at your religious education program and totally ignore the hundreds that come through to visit your historical church on a daily basis…you’ve got some blinders on and you might want to think about removing them.

Of course, the first immediate object relates to cost. Catholics hate giving anything away. We even charge parents to teach their children about Jesus. Go figure. But, as a long-time observer of this Catholic scene, I can safely say…it can be done. This is how you do it:

You make it a priority, you tell everyone that this your priority, and you invite them to join in the mission.

You say, “We have this amazing evangelizing opportunity. We have thousands of people come through our church every year to tour it. We are going to make presenting them with the truth and beauty of faith in Christ a priority. We need ten thousand dollars a year for free materials. These are the materials. Who’s in?”

I’m certain that when people are presented with a very specific pledge on how their funds are going to be used, and it is a valuable step in evangelization like this, they will step up.

And sure, if you want to produce something glossier with photos, do – and charge for that. But materials that invite people into a deeper consideration of the meaning of the objects and structures around them, a deeper consideration that might lead them to salvation?

Yeah, those should be free.

My point: I’ve been in historic Catholic churches all over the United States and rarely, if ever, seen materials like this available for tourists. And I’ve looked. Believe me, I’ve looked.

(Here’s last year’s rant on a similar score, inspired by a visit to Savannah, where hundreds come daily to the Cathedral during the Christmas season to see the Nativity scene.)

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No one comes to church anymore.

Of  course, I think these kinds of materials should be in the vestibule of every Catholic church, even if it was built in 1973 and looks like the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. You still get seekers, every Sunday, and maybe even every day.  There are many ways to meet those people and begin to draw them to Christ. Personal encounters are important. But so is the simple act of just having information freely available and invitingly presented.

In fact, I believe I have written before about a related idea: someone (publishing company, diocese, what have you) coming up with a basic template for, say, “A guide to our church” – that would have the theological and spiritual meanings already written up, perhaps with basic schematic sketches of say, a statue or altar or tabernacle – that would be customizable by an individual church.

Or, you know, you could just make one.

What is a “welcoming church?” Is it one in which elderly ushers accost latecomers and force them into the pew of their own choosing? Is it one in which we are ordered to awkwardly greet our neighbors or raise our hands and share where we’re from?

Or is a “welcoming church” one which:

  1. Has open doors as much as is practically possible.
  2. Has a congregation formed in the ways of simple Christian hospitality: don’t glare at children. Scoot your tail over and make room for other people in the pew. When Mass is over, make eye contact with strangers, smile, and say, “Good morning.” If you note possible confusion or hesitation, offer help in a friendly way. Don’t glare at children.
  3. Has free materials available: What to do at Mass. This is what the Stuff in Our Church Means. Here’s who Jesus is. Here are some good prayers.
  4. Has bulletins/cards/flyers and people sending the message: Here’s who we are. Come and talk. Let us know if we can help you. Here’s how you can join us in helping others. Maybe even a newcomer’s/seeker’s coffee once a month.

In essence:

Once a week, someone different on staff or in the volunteer corps should walk into your church with the eyes of a seeking, curious, nervous stranger.  What questions would that person have? Is there any attempt to answer those questions? What vibe would they be picking up? Would they have easy, non-threatening, non-awkward access to information that will make it easy for them to return and dig deeper?

In my limited experience, European churches can sometimes be a bit – just a bit  – better about providing informative materials, and of course many have porters who function more as guards and may not be the friendliest human beings on the planet, but at least they are there to answer questions.

So, for example, this, the first couple of pages from the free guide from Florence, which at least sets the tone. You can click on the images to get a clearer, readable, view.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

"amy welborn"

EPSON MFP image

 

Do you have evidence that I’m wrong? I hope so! Share it! I would love to see what your church provides, especially if it’s a tourist destination.

This was one of my favorites – I found it lovely and charming. It was at a small church in northern Arizona. St. Christopher’s in Kanab – very welcoming, aware that it’s a tourist stop – not because of its history, but because it’s on the way to and from the Grand Canyon and other place:

So simple to do. But it communicates: We believe.  It’s important. And we want to share it with you.

People do come to church. They come out of curiosity. They come to seek. They come to experience beautiful music and art. They come to find Pokemon. They walk by on ghost tours. They come because they’re hungry and homeless. They come to find shelter from  the sun, the cold or the rain.

They’re about to come in great numbers because it’s Christmas. Are you ready? Are you excited that they’re coming? Are you thrilled to know that there are people who are going to meet Jesus in a deeper way because they come to Mass at Christmas at your parish? Or are you irritated, resentful, dismissive, and already ready for it to be over and things to get back to normal?

So yes, they come.

The question is…do we really even care? 

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Benin dominicans

Dominicans in Benin, courtesy of the always interesting and inspiring African Catholics Instagram feed. 

Here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the saint, in one of his General Audiences, part of the series that focused on great figures in the Church, beginning with the Apostles:

This great Saint reminds us that in the heart of the Church a missionary fire must always burn. It must be a constant incentive to make the first proclamation of the Gospel and, wherever necessary, a new evangelization. Christ, in fact, is the most precious good that the men and women of every time and every place have the right to know and love! And it is comforting to see that in the Church today too there are many pastors and lay faithful alike, members of ancient religious orders and new ecclesial movements who spend their lives joyfully for this supreme ideal, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel!

Many other men then joined Dominic de Guzmán, attracted by the same aspiration. In this manner, after the first foundation in Toulouse, the Order of Preachers gradually came into being. Dominic in fact, in perfect obedience "amy welborn"to the directives of the Popes of his time, Innocent iii, and Honorius iii, used the ancient Rule of St Augustine, adapting it to the needs of apostolic life that led him and his companions to preach as they travelled from one place to another but then returning to their own convents and places of study, to prayer and community life. Dominic wanted to give special importance to two values he deemed indispensable for the success of the evangelizing mission: community life in poverty and study.

First of all Dominic and the Friars Preachers presented themselves as mendicants, that is, without vast estates to be administered. This element made them more available for study and itinerant preaching and constituted a practical witness for the people. The internal government of the Dominican convents and provinces was structured on the system of chapters which elected their own superiors, who were subsequently confirmed by the major superiors; thus it was an organization that stimulated fraternal life and the responsibility of all the members of the community, demanding strong personal convictions. The choice of this system was born precisely from the fact that as preachers of the truth of God, the Dominicans had to be consistent with what they proclaimed. The truth studied and shared in charity with the brethren is the deepest foundation of joy. Blessed Jordan of Saxony said of St Dominic: “All men were swept into the embrace of his charity, and, in loving all, he was beloved by all…. He claimed it his right to rejoice with the joyful and to weep with the sorrowful” (Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum autore Iordano de Saxonia, ed. H.C. Scheeben [Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, Romae, 1935].

Secondly, with a courageous gesture, Dominic wanted his followers to acquire a sound theological training and did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time, even though a fair number of clerics viewed these cultural institutions with diffidence. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers give great importance to study as a preparation for the apostolate. Dominic wanted his Friars to devote themselves to it without reserve, with diligence and with piety; a study based on the soul of all theological knowledge, that is, on Sacred Scripture, and respectful of the questions asked by reason. The development of culture requires those who carry out the ministry of the Word at various levels to be well trained. I therefore urge all those, pastors and lay people alike, to cultivate this “cultural dimension” of faith, so that the beauty of the Christian truth may be better understood and faith may be truly nourished, reinforced and also defended. In this Year for Priests, I ask seminarians and priests to esteem the spiritual value of study. The quality of the priestly ministry also depends on the generosity with which one applies oneself to the study of the revealed truths.

Dominic, who wished to found a religious Order of theologian-preachers, reminds us that theology has a spiritual and pastoral dimension that enriches the soul and life. Priests, the consecrated and also all the faithful may find profound “inner joy” in contemplating the beauty of the truth that comes from God, a truth that is ever timely and ever alive. Moreover the motto of the Friars Preachers contemplata aliis tradere helps us to discover a pastoral yearning in the contemplative study of this truth because of the need to communicate to others the fruit of one’s own contemplation.    More

Then, in 2012, on this feast at Castel Gandolfo, he focused on Dominic and prayer:

There are, then, nine ways to pray, according to St Dominic, and each one — always before Jesus Crucified — expresses a deeply penetrating physical and spiritual approach that fosters recollection and zeal. The first seven ways follow an ascending order, like the steps on a path, toward intimate communion with God, with the Trinity: St Dominic prayed standing bowed to express humility, lying prostrate on the ground to ask forgiveness for his sins, kneeling in penance to share in the Lord’s suffering, his arms wide open, gazing at the Crucifix to contemplate Supreme Love, looking heavenwards feeling drawn to God’s world.

Thus there are three positions: standing, kneeling, lying prostrate on the ground; but with the gaze ever directed to our Crucified Lord. However the last two positions, on which I would like to reflect briefly, correspond to two of the Saint’s customary devotional practices. First, personal meditation, in which prayer acquires an even more intimate, fervent and soothing dimension. After reciting the Liturgy of the Hours and after celebrating Mass, St Dominic prolonged his conversation with God without setting any time limit. Sitting quietly, he would pause in recollection in an inner attitude of listening, while reading a book or gazing at the Crucifix. He experienced these moments of closeness to God so intensely that his reactions of joy or of tears were outwardly visible. In this way, through meditation, he absorbed the reality of the faith. Witnesses recounted that at times he entered a kind of ecstasy with his face transfigured, but that immediately afterwards he would humbly resume his daily work, recharged by the power that comes from on High.

Then come his prayers while travelling from one convent to another. He would recite Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers with his companions, and, passing through the valleys and across the hills he would contemplate the beauty of creation. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his many gifts would well up from his heart, and above all for the greatest wonder: the redemptive work of Christ.

Dear friends, St Dominic reminds us that prayer, personal contact with God is at the root of the witness to faith which every Christian must bear at home, at work, in social commitments and even in moments of relaxation; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live through every event with intensity, especially the moments of greatest anguish. This Saint also reminds us of the importance of physical positions in our prayer. Kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing our gaze on the Crucifix, silent recollection — these are not of secondary importance but help us to put our whole selves inwardly in touch with God. I would like to recall once again the need, for our spiritual life, to find time everyday for quiet prayer; we must make this time for ourselves, especially during the holidays, to have a little time to talk with God. It will also be a way to help those who are close to us enter into the radiant light of God’s presence which brings the peace and love we all need. Thank you.

From Word on Fire , by Fr. Paul Murray, O.P.:

Dominic, it is clear, possessed a strong instinct for adventure. He was daring both by nature and by grace. Dante calls him ‘il santo atleta,’ the holy athlete. No matter how difficult or unforeseen the challenge of the hour, he was not afraid to take enormous risks for the sake of the Gospel. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that within a few years it could be said of the young friars who followed in his wake, and whom he himself had dispersed far and wide to preach the gospel, that they had made the ocean their cloister. But was this spirit of risk and adventure reflected in the intellectual life of the first Dominicans? Study, we know, was given a place that was unheard of before in the history of religious life. It was no longer simply one exercise among others. It was now a central and sacred task. But, in terms of actual content and imaginative range, how striking and original were the studies of those first friars? The principal point to be made in answer to this question is that the early Dominicans were not attempting to be ‘striking and original’. Their studies were shaped by the needs of others, and given the nature of the crisis at that time, what was most urgently required for the task of preaching and the cura animarum was straightforward moral and doctrinal catechesis.

Here’s one of the many interesting Dominican web sites out there – focused on the Dominican liturgy. 

Godzdogs, the blog site of the Dominicans of England and Scotland.

The litany of Dominican saints and blesseds

Earlier this summer, we traveled to Bologna and enjoyed just a few minutes at the tomb of St. Dominic. We were shooed away by the caretaker because, of course, we arrived right as the gates to the tomb area were being closed for the lunch hour. And we didn’t hang around the church itself because there was a school Mass about to begin…but it was a nice moment, anyway, to be at the tomb of St. Dominic and to see the fruit of his labor – young people gathering for Mass – 800 years after his death.

Tomb of St. Dominic

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(Last image from Snapchat – amywelborn2 to follow)

And….St. Dominic is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  Only a page is available in online, so here it is. He’s in “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray” section.

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We are back. Bullet points:

  • Our route was Pisa-Heathrow-Atlanta. (British Airways) The Pisa flight was about 40 minutes late taking off, but we were “only” about 25 minutes late getting into Heathrow, which meant that it was a race getting to our gate for the Atlanta flight. I really didn’t think we would make it, but as we reined ourselves in from our gallop across Terminal 5, we saw the queue (as they say) for the flight was still in process, and we were good.
  • Lots of little kids on the flight to Atlanta, but they were all very good. Only a couple of squawks here and there.
  • I like the flight back so much better than the flight over. I’m not all uptight about “Have to sleep, have to sleep.” I’m not edgy about getting places and meeting apartment owners or what have you.  I’m just there for the ride. I read a little – Our Mutual Friend, but really couldn’t concentrate, mostly because I was so bloody hot – I had dressed in anticipation of being cold, which I usually am on airplanes, but they kept it pretty warm.  So I ended up watching things. Watched a bunch of Curb Your Enthusiams (they had The Producers season up for viewing) which had the boys peering curiously at my screen to see what was making me snort,  and Hail Caesar!, which I liked a lot. I had wanted to see it when it was in theaters, but never got around to it. It’s  got the typical Coen brothers disjointedness, but in the end, it has to be one of the most Catholic/Christian movie that came out in 2016. I’ll write more about it next week.
  • They have really cleaned up immigration and customs in Atlanta. Previously, it’s been a nightmare, but this time, we were through it all in about 15 minutes.
  • And…the car was dead. Completely dead. I really wonder why – I left my other car sitting in my driveway for over 3 months when we traveled in 2012, and it was fine, but oh well. As it happened, someone appeared to jump it within about 46 seconds, 13402563_1759754664270068_1236551091_nso it was fine, and it started right up this morning. (We parked at an off-airport lot. $90 for three weeks)
  • The drive back was fine. I was feeling good, and after an inaugural Chick-Fil-A feast, the boys of course passed out. It was quiet. Daughter is at Bonnaroo, so house was quiet, too, although we miss her!
  •  Stayed up a bit, watched some Veep, did a wash, then went to bed around 1. Woke up, wide awake, at 6. Tried to go back to sleep, but no use. So I got up and finished unpacking, organized souvenirs and gifts, and before I knew it – before 7, the younger one was up, his body clock also awry. So I ran to the store to get milk and such and started my usual back-to-the-US first major activity: cooking up bacon.
  • Older one got up a bit after, his body clock in the same situation. A box turtle appeared on the back porch. We did more laundry, put all the clothes away…it’s like we never left.
  • And here we are. It’s so strange to travel like that, isn’t it? You wake up in Pisa and go to sleep in Alabama. I’m still enough of a rube to be astonished at the ability to do that, and grateful that we are able to do it.
  • Although the scenes won’t be as exotic, I remain on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) remember –

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— 1 —

I’m typing this on Friday morning in a regular, American-style hotel room – the AC Marriot hotel in Pisa. It was the first accomodation I had booked when I planned the trip, mostly to be sure that we had accomodations the night before our flight, and also to know that we would wrap up the trip comfortably.

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Don’t get me wrong. We’ve had good accomodations, but there’s been some quirkiness and some that initially looked great turned out to be not that comfortable – the loft area in Ferrara, for example,  didn’t get any of the air conditioning and there was no fan. And all of them, of course, have European-style showers, which are like lockers.

So I knew we’d be ready for this – although we weren’t so desperate that we needed a double shower. But we got it.

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Ready for the road to take us all the way to Alabama

— 2 —

Our flight is relatively late for a Europe -US flight – it doesn’t leave until 1, which is good from my perspective, “I” being the one who has to get everyone up and going. We get to Atlanta about 8, and depending on how long customs takes, I hope we’re home by 10.

We’re ready. We’ve had a great trip, but we are all definitely ready to be home with our own beds, a washing machine and familiar roads.

Stages of Relationship to a Rental Car in Italy:  1. This is GREAT! We’re free from bus and train schedules we can go where we want in this cute little Fiat flying through the Italian countryside  ………(six days later) 2. I cannot WAIT to get rid of this damn car and be DONE driving on this stupid winding Italian roads…

 

— 3 —

So on Thursday, we left our outside-of-Florence (because I don’t really know where it was other than that) apartment and drove to Pisa. Got here around 11, dropped off the luggage at the hotel, then drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and then took a cab to …..

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 — 4 —

It is not, of course, the only thing to see in Pisa, but with our limited time, it was our focus. We did end up doing a bit of walking – mostly because we couldn’t find a taxi station (for returning to the hotel) and ended up doing a circuit that eventually took us to the train station, which I should have thought of at the start….So yes, we saw a lot of Pisa.

 

 

— 5 

It’s kind of a mob scene, but not that bad, and it’s just fun to be with hundreds of other people also experiencing the same “Wow! It really does lean!” response and just enjoying time in a new place and time together, whether it’s family, friends or tour groups.

Walking up is kind of crazy because you really do feel the tilt.

6–

The duomo was beautiful and fascinating. The font was constructed, as others we have seen, to accomodate several priests baptizing lots of babies at once, since baptisms only occurred at most twice a year.  While we were there, the employees demonstrated the sonic properties of the building – one stands at the center at sings a tone – the tone then takes so much time to echo that he has time to sing another a third up, and then another a third up from that, so the effect is of him singing a three-tone chord all by himself. Lovely.

 

— 7 —

Notes on returning: Next week is a music camp for one of the boys, and chilling out for the other. I will be consolidating photos and working on printing and making a book – it’s not going to wait two years this time. I also have a book proposal to whip up. The rest of the summer is open at this point, except for family visits. We’ll see!

See you on the flip side of the world…

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Remember…I’m still on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2).

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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PHEW.

Sorry for the silence. Our internet went out yesterday, and I didn’t want to bother anyone about it…my phone has data, so my family in the US can still get in touch with me, anyway.

But we arrived  back from Florence today to find everything was back up, so I’ve cleaned the kitchen, repacked all the souvenir purchases, Instagrammed a bunch, so here I am.

We are staying about 10 miles outside of Florence at an apartment in the country that I booked on AirBnB two days before we arrived. It is a nice little apartment with all that we could want, but just a *little* more remote than is ideal, plus it’s been too cool to swim, so the advertised pool is of no use. That’s okay. I could maybe stay at a Motel 6 in Birmingham for what I’m paying to stay at an apartment amid olive groves in the Tuscan countryside, so it remains A Deal.

Before we actually got here, I wasn’t sure how much time we would want to spend in Florence – which is why I didn’t even attempt for us to stay in Florence, proper. I had heard so many conflicting things: Florence is great. Florence is my favorite. Florence is crowded and dirty. Florence is teeming with tourists and poseur American art students. 

So I figured…stay outside of Florence, have the car, give it a day, and if a day was enough, we’d have other options.

(You are saying…um…philistine? You think “a day” in Florence might be “enough?” Well…just remember that I have two kids and we are at the end of almost three weeks here. I didn’t know if they would just be at the point of Enough with museums and cities and such, so I was ready to be flexible.)

Well, we’ve ended up spending both days in Florence. I won’t say that I adore it, but one day definitely wasn’t enough, and of course two still just scratches the surface, but given where we are on this trip…two days is good.

I’m not up for narrative, so I’ll bullet point.

  • We are not driving into Florence. We go to Scanducci, park at the big grocery store (not kidding – biggest grocery store I’ve ever been in, including Super Wal-Marts), then go to the tram that runs right into Florence. Free parking, no city driving, very easy.
  • After much research and internal debate I ended up getting a Firenze Card. I’ll write more about this in a separate post because it’s a popular topic among travelers, but I’ll just say that for me, it was worth it.  No, the dollar value of the tickets I would have bought was less than what I paid for the card, but the convenience of not having to reserve specific times at the Accademia or Uffizi is worth that extra $20. Everyone values different things, and I value flexibility and freedom.
  • Tuesday, we got off the tram and went straight to the Duomo area. We went to the baptistry first, then the Duomo. Climbed the campanile. Which was enough to make me decide I was *not* climbing the duomo dome itself. So far this trip, I have climbed a Bologna tower, up to St. Peter’s Dome, the Siena duomo and still have Pisa to go. Plus a zillion other stairs. I’m good.
  • Then meandering and a sit-down lunch, which was nothing special.
  • More meandering down to the Ponte Vecchio. Talked about it, crossed it, walked to the Pitti Palace, which I sped-read about and decided we would not be interested in. So we walked back across the bridge, I talked to them about the 1966 flood and pulled up some photos of it on my phone,  and then we made our way up to the Accademia.
  • On the way, spent time in San Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Much wonderful art, Michelangelo and Galileo buried there.
  • Then to the Accademia, to see David. The line for unreserved tickets snaked around the block (this was at about 5, and the museum was open into the evening). With the FC, we went to the ticket office, I had to pay a 4E “reservation fee” for each of the boys (showing J’s passport as proof of his under-18 age, which pleased him), but then got that done and waltzed in. See, I told you it was worth it.
  • Saw David,which, like the Eiffel Tower, no matter how iconic it is, is still astonishing at first sight.
  • More moving, though, were the Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures in the hall leading up to David.
  • Poked around a bit more, including in the musical instrument museum. Made our way back to the train, got back to Scanducci, bought a roast chicken and other things at the grocery store and drove back …to no internet. #Sad.
  • They explored the property, found scads of snails and some horses amidst the olive trees.
  • Up this morning, same routine: park at the grocery, tram it to Florence.
  • Started at S. Maria Novella, which is near the train station. Some fascinating art, including a Giotto crucifix.
  • If you have traveled to Catholic sites, particularly in Italy, you know that they can be strict about clothing. Once in Sicily, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and was handed a IMG_20160608_112235shawl when I walked into a church. I’ve heard it’s one of of the reasons there used to be so many scarf-vendors around St. Peter’s (didn’t see *any* this time…mostly selfie-sticks). I visited a Hindu temple outside of Atlanta and even though my skirt was barely above the knee…nope. Had to wrap up in a big black…wrap they hand out. S. Maria Novella has a solution I’d not seen before: Robes. They are mass produced, thin robes packaged in plastic. You waltz in wearing short shorts? Here’s a robe.
  • Then back across the Arno to a branch of the Natural History Museum that is there. We like animals, I thought it would be a nice break, plus they have a collection of 18th-19th century wax human anatomical models I wanted to see. Bologna has a similar collection that I could never seem to get to, so I was particularly keen on this.
  • It was a good idea. A quick walk-through, yes, but they enjoyed it – the animals, that is. It is an old collection (the kind of thing I really appreciate – seeing older, quirky museum collections) and with many of the specimens, you could see the taxidermist’s seam lines and so on.
  • The anatomical models were FANTASTIC. The boys were skeeved out, but I could have stayed much longer. There were a number of people there sketching, so the collection still has great value, obviously.
  • Then a quick counter lunch here, which was far superior to yesterday’s lunch. That is usually the case, I have found.
  • Up across the Arno. The Galileo Science Museum is right next to the Uffizi, so we hit that first. Great, great exhibits. It’s not huge, but is certainly dense, centered on a couple of collections of historic scientific instruments including, of course, Galileo – a couple of his telescopes and other instruments, as well as relics – a finger bone and a tooth!
  • They advertise an “interactive” section, but don’t go thinking that it will be anything like your typical American science museum (about which I have mixed feelings, btw). It’s all of two rooms, with maybe 5 “hands on” activities.
  • Then the Uffizi – the FC card got us through within minutes, and without that 4E kid fee either.
  • More on the Uffizi later (as in…next week). I enjoyed it, but it was mobbed and a couple of times it was challenging to see the art because of the tour groups.
  • ….and back.
  • Of course remember that all of this is interspersed with regular gelato stops. Always.

Check out Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2) for more…and here are some random pics.

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

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All right, the last couple of days in a quick nutshell.

Sunday morning, I spent a while wandering Sorano looking for another Catholic church I swore must be there. Indeed, one church was right around the corner from our apartment, but as I interpreted it, the Mass times were 8 and 11:30 – the first being too early, the second being later that I wanted.

When I mapped it, I thought I had seen another Catholic church, but when I set out walking..it was nowhere to be found and my data didn’t work. So..I wandered. Which was fine.

Got the boys up, then we left at 11:29.30 for 11:30 Mass, which is nice. The congregation was composed of 18 people, including the three of us. More on that later when I can be more reflective. It was sad, with one tiny glimmer of hope who wished us pace with great sincerity.

We then headed to the path below the village that led to our own area’s via cave – of San Rocco. It was quite a hike up – and when we were back “home” looking up at the plateau upon which we’d stood, it was hard to believe we’d done it. But worth it. Several Etruscan burial sites, caves and niches, and a small (locked) Romanesque church.

And on the way back…it started raining. We were wet, certainly, but not soaked or hurt, so who cares. We hung up our cloths, dried off, ate, waited for the sun to come out, and made our next moves – a tour of the town’s castle (I didn’t take any photos because it was just the three of us, an elderly American couple and our sweet Italian tour guide with her charming, precise English, and it just didn’t seem like the right time. For most of its history, it belonged to the Orsinis. If there is one aspect of history I am emphasizing to the boys on this trip it is simply the patchwork history of Italy, and I think they are getting it. I know I am certainly coming to a more solid grasp of it myself.

The sun was out, so we decided to head over to Pitigliano – this amazing place – where we actually parked (free, because I had actually studied up on it and understood that if the lines were white, the space was free), wandered, checked out the duomo (Mass was happening), the Jewish quarter, and ate some dinner. There was a substantial Jewish population in Pitigliano until World War II, when most left, but the synagogue and other historic buildings are still maintained – not open on Sunday. What was terribly sad was that the complex was guarded by two military guys with machine guns. How tragic that that is necessary.

****

Back to the home base, where we did a bit more wandering, up to the rock that has been built up into a viewing wall. We spent a lot of time up there looking, studying the landscape, talking, and imagining the people – from the Etruscans to modern times – who have inhabited the place.

***

Then it was time to go. The apartment is located in a pedestrian-only zone (as is most of the town), so you can’t park there. The instructions I got for where to park were basically this: “Don’t go in the main gate of the village. Keep going and you will come to some nut trees near a power station with a yellow sign. Park there, walk down the stone steps and you will find the road to the apartment.”

O-kay. 

It took me a couple of tries – I drove past once, couldn’t imagine that that was actually where I was supposed to leave my rental car, but the road led me up, up, up a mountain across a gorge from the village. What was funny was that when I finally found a place to turn around, not one, but TWO cars pulled into the same place behind me, both drivers studying maps when they pulled in. Solace in a confused community.

Well, it was a safe place, the car was fine, and the walk wasn’t bad, except a bit of a chore up the stairs with suitcases. But I didn’t do that, so not my problem, eh guys?

***

The drive to Siena took a bit longer than I thought because I turned off on one wrong road, and instead of backtracking, I decided to just keep going an alternative way. It’s fine. It’s all gorgeous scenery.

***

When people drive to Siena, one of the great concerns is parking.  Most Italian cities have what they call ZTL zones – historic zones in which driving is limited to those who have special permits. If you venture into a ZTL, you apparently get zapped with a massive fine, and everyone is super scared. I didn’t have a problem – I just followed the “P” signs which indicated a lot with available spaces – Il Campo – and parked there. Easy.

***

We only did the basics, unfortunately, but they were quite enough for one afternoon – the Campo, the Duomo, inside and from up top, and the Catherine of Siena sites, include the relic of her head, which was not at all gruesome.

I’ll write more on that later.

It was a rainy day, but not too bad. We found shelter in churches and gelateria. Which is a metaphor for something.

Then a rather tortuous drive to the outskirts of Florence – probably more tortuous than it should have been – found the new place. We went to the biggest supermarket we’ve been to on this trip – an Esselunga – and stocked up, and then drove back up the hill to eat things like salami and prosciutto sandwiches, pepperocini stuffed with tuna. a cold pesto pasta dish, cheese, bread, olives and Italian chicken nuggets – “just to see”.

I obviously hope to get into Florence today…we’ll see…

Random photos I don’t have time to label. Seriously – follow me on Instagram or on Snapchat (amywelborn2) to get more during the day. I have videos on both – and remember Snapchat stuff is only up for 24 hours. You have to download the Snapchat app and register, but it’s painless – and you can make your kids cringe with embarrassment that you’re on Snapchat, and possibly drive them off of it as a result, so that’s a win.]

(Photo related – the blog header is from the Siena duomo – heads of popes lining the walls. I am convinced that whoever designed Disney’s Haunted Mansion had visited this place. It’s all I could think of as I looked at them looking down at me with their various expressions….)

 

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Yeah, well so much for thoughtful blogging. I just spent the late evening trying to figure out next week. Almost there, pending a response from an AirBnB host.

Today, we drove over to Sovano, where we explored some Etruscan vie cave – which are these trails amidst Etruscan burial sites. Burial sites are the only sites which provide evidence of Etruscan life, since the settlements they founded are mostly still settled, so their artifacts are buried very deep.

This is where we wandered today.

Then over to Saturnia, which is known for its thermal waters. I was a little confused as to where the waters were, my phone data wasn’t working, so we ended up in the town itself, where we found a place that was still serving something for lunch (at around 3 – not easy to find in non-heavily touristed Italy), got gelato, and then found the Information office, where the staff member was very helpful. In both Saturnia and here in Sorano, the information offices were staffed by people who spoke excellent English (and probably German and French as well) and were very kind and helpful.

Found it!

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Only one of us went in – my oldest was fighting a headache, and I was just not in the mood for getting wet and then driving…but the younger was all for it, and took the waters with the Italians.

No mud, though.

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The intention was to get to Pitigliano, which did happen, but not before a grocery store stop. As we drove through Montalcino, we saw a supermarket – which Sorano definitly does not have – so we made a stop for supplies, which also includes random food souvenirs that I will be bringing back. More on that later.

Back in the car, then to Pitigliano, the place that inspired my interest in this part of Italy.

We did drive through it, but it really looked like it was going to rain, so we didn’t stop. It was pretty crowded with visitors, anyway.

Back to Sorano, then a little break, then a walk down to the beginnings of our own vie cave – saw a muskrat in the river! – then back up into town, a bit of dinner here – it was very good and far superior to the dinner we’d had the night before. I hope it’s open on Sunday, because I will certainly return. I had tagliatelle with puttanesca sauce and a side of caponeta, simply because I was curious about the caponata – it was good, but I have to admit I like Michael Chiarello’s recipe much better – far more pungent and strongly flavored.

And that’s it. Tomorrow, Mass, back to Pitigliano to explore their vie cave, a walk on ours, tour the fortress here in Sorano and probably a bit of just driving around. We’ll see.

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…with better internet.

But I didn’t get a chance to blog last night. Hopefully tonight it will happen. Short version of yesterday:

Train from Rome to Orvieto. Orvieto holds the corporeal that is the center of the Eucharistic miracle that is the root of the Corpus Christi feast. The duomo is astonishing – and to me what makes it even more so is that as we drove east, you could still see Orvieto, of course, rising on the mesa, as I’d call it if it were in the US, and the duomo standing tall in the center – even from 30 km away.

Oh, and yes, I did get the car in Orvieto. It worked out great. Train from Termini to Orvieto – Hertz office right across the street from the train. We put our bags in the car and they let me just leave it there while we took the funicular up to the town and roamed for a few hours. Then back down, and out. Very easy.I’m glad I did that rather than finding the car in Rome, navigating my way out of Rome and then having to find parking in Orvieto.

We drove east, swung down by Lake Balsano just to take a look, then up to Sorano where we are now. The apartment is definitely funky, as you would expect from what is proabably a 14th or 15th century building, but it’s a really interesting place.

Mish-mash of photos below includes train ride to Orvieto, funicular up to Orvieto, reliquary chapel, front of duomo, St. Patrick’s well in Orvieto, various shots of Sorano. Our apartment is right below the green door, and that’s the kitchen from the steps leading to the small living/sleeping area, which is a level below the other sleeping area…more later.

Follow more as we go on Instagram (amy_welborn) and Snapchat (amywelborn2)

 

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Well, definitely 21st century First World problems. So I’ll deal.

Although I will say it has made planning the next week far more challenging that it might have been. Or has it? Perhaps it has just shortened it and nipped my ‘satiable curiosity about the Next Best Vacation Rental in the bud, that curiosity that makes it so difficult to make a decision sometimes.

So this time, it’s more, “That one has beds and wi-fi. Looks good.Grab it before the internet collapses.”

So we are set…until Monday. The next rental promises good internet, so we will see.

At this point, we are catching a train to Orvieto tomorrow, seeing Orvieto, then picking up a rental car and heading west.

For some reason, I couldn’t get enthusiastic about picking up a rental car in Rome. I’m a little nervous about driving, although I have driven in Europe before, including Sicily and including Palermo. I’ve driven in Manhattan and Chicago and ATLANTA.  And even though I wouldn’t have been driving much in actual Rome – and could have avoided it completely by getting a car at the airport, I just wasn’t feeling it. For one, getting the car at the airport would have been a hassle: Train ride to FCO, then get car. I might as well just take the train somewhere else and avoid that specific stress. The train stations have rental car offices nearby, but really…if I’m taking us to the train station…why not just get on the train and go somewhere and take care of a car later?
So we’ll see. I will take a few minutes tonight to review my Italian road signs. This won’t be as bad as that time at the beginning of the Fall 2012-3-months-in-Europe-thing that as we descended into Paris it dawned on me that I had not even begun to familiarize myself with French road rules and signs, and I would be picking up a car right aftet we landed and setting off in it. In France.

So again with the sketchy internet. Just a brief review of today, then: Over to St. Peter’s by 9, headed straight to the dome, which I’d never before. 5 minutes in security, no line at the dome ticket office. Took the elevator partway up, walked the rest, saw the sights. Back down into the Basilica, where I was struck by the large areas that are now roped off from visitors. There is a the big path down the middle reserved for Year of Mercy pilgrims (who are visitors of course) and then the whole area from way in front of the baldacchino all the way back, and then the whole area around Alexander VII’s tomb. It makes the rest of the space even more crowded than ever.

Then…rain. We sought shelter in souvenir shops and an overpriced lunch, then made it back to the apartment to wait out the weather, which eventually cleared.

So..hop on the 75 bus to Circo Massimo, change to the 118, and down to the Appian Way. We toured the Catecombs of St. Callistus and St. Sebastian, and then walked a big chunk of the road. Back on the 118 and 75, rest for a bit in the apartment, start to clean and pack, then out for an excellent, reasonable dinner here. 2 appetizers, 2 pastas, 2 secondi (scallopini) (all split between the 3 of us), 2 cokes, 1 large mineral water, a small carafe of wine – 64 E. Not bad at all.

I hope with dependable internet and quieter nights, I’ll have more time to share notes from the past couple of days…

 

 

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I really liked this sign.

I also liked this booklet idea, found in one of the Vatican bookshops. It’s for an older elementary child, with the story of the saint he or she might be named after. My name is….

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Finally, on the Appian Way.  I’ll write more about it later, but just say, we enjoyed the St. Callisto tour more, as it was led by a lively older British Salesian, and also just say that it would be pretty amazing to live in an place where your afternoon park stroll could be down a 2,000 year old Roman road.

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I think the deal with the internet is that there is a daily quota, and since the minute we hit the apartment, finish dinner and have rest time, two of our party start watching videos on their devices…that’s eating it up. So I have put a ban on the video-watching (hmmmm) for the moment because I *really* need internet in order to plan the last section of the trip WHICH STARTS ON FRIDAY AND FOR WHICH I HAVE PLANNED NOT A THING. I mean…no accommodations, no car rental…..This is getting kind of insane. Kind of?
If you see a woman, a teen-aged boy and pre-teen boy dragging suitcases along Tuscan roads….it’s us. Wave as you speed by on your Vespa.
The point is, I am even loathe to try to upload photographs until I get that done. So for today know that…
Wednesday, we spent the day at Ostia Antica. It was great. We’ve been to Pompeii, and both are equally fascinating in different ways.   This morning (It’s about 3pm as I write this), we had a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum, walked up the Palatine, took the 8 tram back in the direction of our apartment, hopped off at a random Trastevere stop, grabbed pizza at the first place we saw…pizza which was fantastic..ate it walking back to the tram, got back to the apartment, are resting for a bit until we go back out and hit the centro for real this time.

So, nervously, I will share just a few photos…

More later after I figure next week out…if I have internet left…

But Instagram (amy_welborn) and Snapchat (amywelborn2) work with data, so….

 

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