10/31/2011

Venice...

If you've ever had the feeling of wanting to be pinched twenty four seven because you need something to wake you up from an amazing dream, then you can sort of understand what it is like to be in Venice.

We left for our first weekend trip to the city that is loved by all Italians at 7:30am. Most of us, myself included, slept on the plane. The plane in itself was an experience! The airline we flew with, Easy Jet, doesn't assign seats for its passengers, so what seat you get is kind of a free for all. Unless....you have a strategy. Which, of course, we did. However, everyone else also had the same strategy as well. With Easy Jet, after they check your passport and boarding pass, you crowd onto this bus which takes you to your plane. The key is to position yourself as closely to the bus doors as possible, because once the bus stops and the doors open, everyone makes a mad dash to board the plane and sit in their prime seat. I have to say that we all did very well getting the seats that we wanted:) However, the entire process is a little hilarious.

We arrived in Venice around 10:30 after taking a 45 minute bus ride, and a 50 minute ferry ride to our hotel. Venice is separated into little and big islands.Our hotel was on the island of Lido. It was a beautiful place, with a family atmosphere, social fun at night, the Venetian Sea with in ten minutes walking distance, and only fifteen  minutes away from any main attraction by ferry. It was great! In relation to the United States, I would compare Lido to Hilton Head Island. A much more beautiful, exotic, and interesting Hilton Head, of course. But nevertheless, the two islands shared many things in common, like numerous vacationers for starters, bike rentals, water, and relaxation. I guess you could say the islands are soul mates:)

Day one in Venice after arriving we grabbed a pizza, some Fanta, and headed down to the beach. We ate our pizza and then explored the beach! Being on the beach of Venice was absolutely amazing! I just stood there, looked far in the distance, felt the wind on my face, and tried to immerse myself in the moment. The gray water splashed up onto the sand, ferries passed, people laughed, and I stood there, shocked and amazed at what I was seeing, what I was feeling, and where I was. I can't explain the beauty of the beach and the Sea in words....I just can't.

As the time passed I collected sea shells and we took pictures and did other fun things. After a little bit we left the beach, and caught the ferry to San Marco. Woohoo! When we got off the ferry in San Marco's square, it really hit me that we were in Venice! In San Marco is what everyone pictures when they think of Venice. There are gondola rides, canals everywhere, bridges you walk over, amazing views, shops, and of course the three most famous things of Venice: San Marco's Church (the oldest and most famous church in Venice), the Emperor's Palace,and the clock tower. Much of San Marco's square has Arab influences in the architecture, which provided such an interesting and beautiful twist to much of what we have been seeing in Rome. Danillo took us on a walking tour, where he showed us the best shops, the unique and original Venetian masks to buy ("Stay away from the fakes!" he would tell us.), and the non touristy gondola locations. Everything was fantastic, and once again, I tried to soak it all in.

We did so much on our trip! We rode many ferry rides, which are a good form of transportation but also a great way to see Venice. We had Mass in San Marcos Church on Sunday morning, which was absolutely amazing. I'm still getting used to attending Mass in Italian, and I can't understanding what the priest is saying in the Homily, but thank goodness that the Catholic Church is universal, because even though I cannot understand the actual words being spoken during the Mass, I already know what is being said :) The church was very elaborate and very different, with a gold leafed ceiling.

Now...take a deep breath....on Saturday....we took a gondola ride!!!! Yay!!!!  It was so fun and my favorite part of the trip. Our gondola driver took us around Venice, through the canals, under the bridges. I waved blew kisses to everyone we passed and offered up a million "Ciaos!" The driver showed us where Marco Polo lived and Napoleon. At the end of the ride he helped us out of the boat and I got a picture with him..It was great:)

Well, this is incredibly long, so I will end it here. Best wishes to all those reading...I love and miss you all!
-Ciao Bella!  




10/25/2011

Assisi Pilgrimage

I have never been more amazed in my entire life than when I went to Assisi this past weekend. What do I even say?? There was beauty everywhere, and I felt so blessed to be there. I couldn't believe that for some odd reason God decided to give me, of all people, the chance to see such a holy place, with two other great friends by my side.

We started off the weekend on Thursday afternoon, by catching a train from Rome Termini to Assisi. The ride was about two hours long, but by the time we arrived, I was so proud of us for even getting there! This was Jamie, Angela, and I's first trip in Italy by ourselves....it was also our first free weekend in the country. Every move we made, we analyzed, or scrutinized, because we were so worried about making a mistake and ruining everything! However, we made it to Assisi right on time, because the minute we stepped off the train, we had to run to catch a local bus that would take us up the hills of Assisi to our hotel. At first we thought we missed our bus because a bunch of taxi drivers kept trying to get us in their cars. Needless to say, we weren't feeling this. We freaked out checking the bus schedule, in disbelief that we had missed it. Then...I spotted a nun that was on our train. She seemed to be waiting for the bus as well, so I went up to her and attempted (in the best Italiano that I could muster) whether or not she was waiting for the bus. She said yes, and then I tried to tell her that I think that the last bus had already come. Once she heard this, it didn't take her long to put herself into action, stomp over to the schedule, leading me over with her, and show me that the bus should be coming any second. We got so excited! We didn't miss it! We wouldn't have to pay for a taxi! All of the above! The next thing I knew the bus was pulling around the corner and the three of us (four if you count the nun) were getting on the bus...next stop the hills of Assisi!

Our hotel was beautiful and so so cute. Just like a movie:) We all slept pretty well, had complimentary breakfast at the hotel, and then we set off to explore! Our first stop was San Francesco Cathedral (St. Francis). In a few words: probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life. The elaborate and detailed paintings throughout the church were amazing. There were so many gorgeous works of art everywhere that your eye wanted to look a thousand places at once. The frescoes on the interior walls of the church were mainly of St. Francis' conversion and life after conversion. The upper part of the walls were painted the story of creation. There were little chapels/devotional areas along the walls of different saints and the Virgin Mother Mary. The Virgin Mary had a crown of stars that shown bright (literally, with lights) and actually in almost all churches where there is a statue of the Mother Mary, she is depicted with a crown of stars that glow inside the dimly lit church. We were also lucky enough to see the tomb of St. Francis. I was able to offer a candle up for a devotion at that time, and it was completely beautiful. There were also relics of St. Francis, like his actual cloak, robe, and slippers. So cool!!! Such a wonderful experience...

We were also able to See San Pietro's, San Ruffino (where St. Clare and St. Francis were baptized and visited by Pope John Paul II), San George, San Neouvo, and the Temple di Minerva, and my second favorite of the day: San Chiara (St. Clare).

While all of the church's and cathedrals were amazing, San Chiara's was spectacular. There was something about the church that made me feel so completely comfortable inside. It was so feminine inside and it made me proud to be not only a Christian, but a Woman. The feminine touches were very subtle, but also very lovely. On the outside, the bricks had a pinkish hue, and the marble steps were a salmon/orange color that gave the outside and the inside a very warm feeling. The artwork in the church was not lavish compared to the other churches we had seen that day. It was more modest, very suited to a woman, especially a woman like St. Clare. The arches inside the church weren't as sharp or pointed as in the other churches either. The arches in San Chiara were round and soft...comfortable. In her tomb (yes, I was able to see her tomb!) there was soft music playing and stained glass windows on both sides. Her relics were displayed, even relics of her hair!

When we left San Chiara, I felt so peaceful. I felt as though my place as a woman in this world was purposeful. I could sense God around us...in the peaceful views of Assisi, in the cold breeze that day, in the company I had, and the opportunities around us. I can't speak for anyone else, but I felt very blessed.

Later that night we ate dinner at a small cafe, went to bed, explored a little more, had lunch, and then caught the bus back to the train station. It was time to go home....or back to campus. Leaving was bitter sweet because we hated to leave such a beautiful scene, however we felt so accomplished for completing the trip by ourselves and for seeing everything that we did, we were almost ready to leave.

Well, as my first trip, and my first Pilgrimage, I would say it was a complete success. Sorry this post was so long, I just hated to leave out anything!! I'll keep you update on what is happening this week and our upcoming trip to Venice this weekend! God Bless!
         Ciao Bella!!!
 

10/20/2011

Roman Rain!

Today has definitely been an adventure thus far! We woke up to an intense thunder storm this morning, which supposedly had been going on all last night, but thankfully I slept like a baby and didn't hear any of the storm. After class this morning, we found out that all of the underground subway trains were flooded and backed up with sewer water.....yuck. The underground is already pretty dirty, so seeing it flooded would not have been a pretty sight. Needless to say the subway was closed and we couldn't go on our sight visit to the Basilica of San Clemente. We were all kind of shocked because we are so used to rainy weather never affecting us in Ohio. But at the same time, many were glad that we didn't have to get completely soaked in the rain.

However, a few of us crazy people decided to go out in the rain anyway! Ron Scott, Steve, and I ventured out in the the pouring sheets of Italian rain, and walked up to Castel Gondolfo, the little village near our campus. I have to say, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life! It was so much fun! We took the back way up to the village, mostly by accident, and saw so many amazing streets that were so authentically Italian it was insane. When we arrived in the main square we walked over to a road where we had a fantastic view of Lake Albano. Truly beautiful, really. Before heading back we stopped at a little Cafe and get espresso and a pastry. The espresso was so strong but perfect for warming us up, and the pastry was probably the best thing I have ever had in my life. We felt very Italian in the Cafe.

Someone mistook me for being Italian actually earlier in the day while we were walking up to the village. The woman asked me for directions, and I had to politely tell her that I had no idea how to speak Italiano. I was so proud though that I fit in with the Europeans. Yay!

Well, time to go...I have to go pack for Assisi and Perugia!
Ciao Bella!

10/18/2011

The First Three Days

From the moment we arrived in Rome, I have been unable to tear my eyes away from the sights surrounding us. Everywhere I look there is beauty, and most of the time I am in complete awe. I have to pinch myself every five minutes so I can be reminded that I am here in the Eternal City, the most beautiful of places. We live in a small village forty minutes outside of Rome, and every day we take the train into the city. On the first real day of classes and sight visits, we went to the Colosseum. One word: Amazing. The Colosseum is right in the city, and visible automatically outside of the underground (which is the Italian subway). It is impossible to comprehend such an important and beautiful piece of art. Thousands of years old, it doesn't hold the same type of beauty that it did in its original form. Present day, the Colosseum represent the beauty of history, of a country's past and mistakes, Roman culture, and science. The Colosseum was a fantastic jump start to our Rome experience. After that, we visited the Roman Forum, which was also very breath taking. Then we stayed in the city the rest of the day to sight see and explore. The shops are great here, as well as the people. Everyone we met along the way were unexpectedly friendly to "the Americanos." 


Today we went to Spagna, inside of Rome, and were able to see the Spanish steps. I took a picture on top of the steps and inside of the fountain. I couldn't believe that I was there. The area around the steps was so European looking, almost like a movie. So beautiful. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go into the  church at the top of the steps because it was closed. However, we were able to visit inside a very famous and spiritual church, where their past priests and bishops were actually buried underneath the marble floors in a crypt. The statues and paintings inside were awe inspiring. Seeing beautiful artwork like that inside a Catholic church, where the beauty of the Lord is meant to be experienced was truly a blessing. Inside Italian churches, it becomes very clear that God provides us with talents in this life so we may use them to praise His name, and spread the Gospel among all people.


The upcoming days are planned to be just as exciting! I so look forward to it! For those reading this blog, please keep me in your prayers as I partake in this journey, in such a holy city. Feel free to leave a comment about anything! Next post should be soon....


Ciao Bella!