A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013


Following in the footsteps of Saint Francis


Thursday 06 June 2013

Fr Michael flew to Spain to give a retreat, and Elizabeth took us to the base for a tour and brief shopping, then over to the airport side of the base to Fr Michael’s office and visited his RP (enlisted clerk). Though the buildings (offices mainly) are new and well constructed, it was disappointing to learn how so little provision is made for the single sailors (no homey comforts, kitchens to cook in, nothing much more than a Taco Bell). After another coffee, Elizabeth drove us round the corner to the airport, and put us on a bus going to the rail terminal.

This was a new experience for us, for the bus was crowded with local travellers, either coming or going with their cases. We paid for our pass, but didn’t understand that we also needed to validate the pass on a little machine in the aisle. The driver and other passengers clearly communicated to us our public transport sins. We drove in directions only the locals would know, and eventually stopped at the huge piazza opposite the train station. I recognised the McDonald’s sign on the far side (where Fr Michael had picked us up), so knew where we were.

We made it to Rome on the high speed train just fine, but had to transfer to another train to Assisi. I had our tickets, but couldn’t understand where the platform was. It was Platform 1 Oest, not the regular Platform 1; finally we found it but the train was out of service. Finally we kept on walking down the platform another 300 meters, only to see our train departing! We missed the train!

Some other travellers who had also missed the train thought there would be another one in an hour, so we waited. Then it occurred to me that our tickets might not work. I went to the central ticket office and waited for 45 minutes; then realised that the easiest thing to do would be to purchase fresh tickets, which I did. I scurried back to where Kevin was patiently waiting (and chatting with an American college student), and we boarded the train; changing trains along the way.

I felt a camaraderie with people going to Assisi. Like Walsingham, Assisi isn’t on the way to anywhere; one has to be going there on purpose. And, like Walsingham, all are pilgrims of some sort or another. It was invigorating to be in the company of people who were on the ‘Assisi Way’.

At Assisi, we took a taxi to the convent. It was an imposing sight to behold: the town of Assisi way up on the hilltop, and the huge and imposing Basilica di San Francesco on the left. It was nearly 7PM when we rang the door to the convent, and were shown to our rooms and the customs of the house. I was stunned to see that my room had a view of the entire valley, and the churches nearby. There was a large Church on the right and I wondered which one that would be. At a pizzeria pouring over the maps, we realised we were two blocks away from S. Francis, and that my room had a view of the Basilica!

What a gracious welcome to Assisi!

Friday 07 June 2013

I had arranged for a private tour for Kevin and me, and Alex was our guide. We met him at S. Clare’s Church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_di_Santa_Chiara) and instantly hit it off. He not only knew Assisi, but was himself a man of faith, and wove into all of his instruction the theology and spirituality of S. Francis, showing us in picture and design his teaching.

Starting in S. Clare’s Church, we saw the original San Damiano Cross that S. Francis beheld as he heard God talking to him: “Francis, rebuild my Church which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.” Francis began buying up bricks and mortar to repair the walls. Of course, Francis would later understand that God was not talking about the bricks and mortar of a building, but that God desired a rebuilding of the heart and soul of the Church. As Alex explained, even Francis didn’t understand at first; and that gives hope to those of us to whom God speaks, but we don’t initially understand. This gives me hope.

Eventually, of course, we reached the Basilica itself, which is huge and breathtaking. The artwork on the walls, primarily by Giotto, told the story of salvation and of Francis’ life in beautiful pictures. This was one of Europe’s earliest Gothic Churches, and in the art, one can see the stirrings of the Renaissance; where the figures have human emotions in the faces, and the background is increasingly three dimensional.

I lit yet another candle for my parish, family and friends: that the spirit of utter dependence on God (poverty of spirit) would enter all our hearts.

After we said farewell to Alex, who had gone beyond the tour timeframe by about two hours, Kevin and I went back to go through the upper and lower basilicas again. We also found the gift shop, where we made significant contributions to the local economy. The treasure of this trip is a hand painted Cross of San Damiano, which I have shipped home. I’ll look forward to sharing it with you when I get back.

Here are some websites:

Trudging up the hill to the Convent with our treasures, we got showered (it’s warm here now) and then went to a pizzeria Alex had recommended. We shared a pizza, then Kevin (who was still hungry) had something he had been wanting ever since his arrival in Italy: spaghetti with meat sauce! No meatballs here; that’s from Kansas.

We headed home to the convent, stopping for a gelato on the way. S. Francis’ was lit up for a concert, and we could hear the music coming into my room as we chatted at end of day. You’ll like the pictures whenever I get to a place with wifi, and a moment to post them.

Saturday 08 June 2013

It was recommended that we go to the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels; after which the City of Los Angeles is named. It was down in the valley, and part of the modern town of Assisi. We did so, but were disappointed to find it locked up tighter than a drum. There was to be a huge outdoor Mass at 6PM, and they had all the chairs lined up. Still, here is some information on the Basilica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Santa_Maria_degli_Angeli

We had lunch at McDonald’s (free WiFi); perhaps my second time since in Europe. The place was crawling with chatty teens talking at the top of their lungs and, even with free WiFi, this soon chased us out into the sun again. We double checked on our train tickets to ensure they were valid and the train time, then caught the local bus back up to the hilltop.

This was our opportunity to revisit at a more leisurely pace the churches we had been through with Alex (whom we encountered several times during the day). It was good to spend time in holy places that were becoming familiar to us. At the ‘new’ Duomo (cathedral), we stumbled upon a gallery of beautiful portraits of Blessed Pope John Paul II; obviously painted both skill and devotion. Especially touching was a scene of the Pope venerating the Holy Cross, and being held for him by then Cardinal Ratzinger.

We went back to the convent, got showered, then went down the hill to the Basilica for the 6PM Mass, which was thoughtfully and reverently done in the lower level. Then it was to our last supper in Assisi: Ristorante Leon D’Oro, on the Piazza where Francis renounced all earthly possessions, and was taken under the protection of the Bishop.

This was a restaurant that was in a 13th century home that, when the 1997 earthquake hit, revealed the ruins underneath of an old Roman house built in about 70BC. Upon reconstruction, the floor was replaced with glass, so you can see the ruins under your feet whilst dining. We shared a risotto made from Umbrian ingredients, and my main course was quail stuffed with onion, with local sautéed mushrooms. Then it was home to the convent to pack.

Sunday 09 June 2013

We made it to the train with plenty of time to spare, and had a cappuccino whilst waiting. There were no glitches this time.

Arriving at the Roma Termini, we located the train to the airport and climbed aboard with everyone else and their suitcases. I had arranged for us to stay the last night at the Hilton; the only hotel actually on the premises of the airport.

So, we were able to walk to the hotel. Once there, we got comped to the Executive Level. All this really meant was that we had free wifi, but also access to their Club Room. This had drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, and Kevin and I made this our (free) evening meal.

Posted by stbrides 07:38 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

In Naples

Tuesday 04 June 2013

After a wonderful breakfast of omelets with artichokes, we went to tour the area. Fr Michael took us to the ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Capua; Santa Maria Capua Vetterie; sort of a smaller colosseum, where one of the gladiator schools ran, and where Spartacus trained. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, these ruins permitted visitors to walk in the subterranean parts of the amphitheater; right down where the animals and humans would have been getting prepared for their time in the ring.

Of course, on the way there, Sophia his Garmin GPS had us going through a farm, filled with corn. We came up to a small hut where some farmhands came out to see what dumb tourists were lost and driving through their field. One of them hopped his bicycle and led us out of the farm and onto paved streets once again. One hardly ever sees an SUV here, but this was one time we wish we had one.

We then drove up into the hills of Naples to a small mountaintop village called Caserta Vecchia. We parked at the base of the village and walked up. Tucked on the hilltop is a village of about 200 people, and everything was made of stone. It rained off and on all day long, and though this ruined the views, it also kept the tourists away. This is a website on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casertavecchia. The other website is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_Capua_Vetere

That evening, we met Fr Kingsley and Carol Joyce at Christ Church, Naples. He is the Chaplain to the congregation, which is Church of England; Diocese of Europe. He is also a retired British Army Chaplain, so we hit it off well. Also there was a young Naval officer who is transitioning out of the Navy and into the Priesthood, attending my seminary: General. It was a wonder evening at their favourite Italian family restaurant with lots of food, drink, jokes and camaraderie. Here is their parish website:

Wednesday 05 June 2013

When Elizabeth returned from a morning doctor appointment, we all piled into the car and headed to the Almalfi Coast. We took hairpin switchbacks beyond counting, and ended up in a little hilltop village overlooking the coastal drive, and the expanse of the Med below. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the entire coastline. We ordered a late lunch with the house wine, and enjoyed the food, the view and the company.

After, we went into the piazza and wandered down a side street. We came upon a small shop selling locally sourced and hand painted porcelain items: plates, tables, Christmas ornaments. I didn’t want to be carrying things all over Europe, so wasn’t too much interested, and then the owner showed us how many orders he had for shipping to the US; in fact, 90% of his sales are shipped. Well, that had us sunk, and Elizabeth and I determined we would return when my sister Debbie is along to help me select things.

We also stopped in a few Churches, which tended to be Franciscan, and we lit candles for our loved ones. One tidy little Church Fr Michael and I thought we could purchase and run as a retreat centre. As we walked, we saw the steep ravine leading to the Mediterranean Sea, and gazing across could see houses and a church on the other side. Coming upon a hillside hotel/restaurant with another stunning view, we stopped for a moment to enjoy the stillness and the view. We agreed that, if Adam and Eve had been permitted a return visit to Eden, just for the afternoon, it must have been like this. Our drinks and snacks were finished, it was dusk and we had an hour to drive, but no one wanted to.

The website is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravello

Posted by stbrides 14:56 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Roman Holiday

Two old Sailors in Rome

Saturday in Rome

I was chatting with one of the families staying at the convent, and they mentioned they were going to go touring Rome in a car. I remarked that they were very brave to rent a car and to go driving in Rome traffic! No, she told me, the sisters arranged for a car and driver, and he would drive them as long as they wish.

Well, the English speaking sister arranged a car and driver for Kevin and me also. It was raining, but we headed out regardless. We saw nearly all the famous sites, sometimes under an umbrella (it was raining). At the Colosseum, he parked and waited whilst we took the English language tour, which was very informative; but also much longer than what we had budgeted time-wise. The rain had stopped.

We were hungry. So Octavio drove us to a small, family run restaurant (somewhere in the heart of Rome!), where he knew the owner; and where everything except the wine is made in their own kitchen. The antipasti were fine, and I had pasta with portobello mushrooms.

Then it was off to the Churches! We stopped at the Capuchin Church and Crypt, which is amazing as Ground Zero for the Capuchin Friars; a movement to reform the Franciscan Order and return them to their strict and austere ways. The crypt and ossuary was one of the most unusual display of bones I have ever encountered. Of course, and ossuary is a place where bones (having over time been reduced simply to bones) are stored, categorised or otherwise arranged. My first experience of this was in the Crypt at S. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London.

At the Capuchin Crypt, however, they have these arranged as 3-D art; telling the story of the Bible and Salvation History. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed. Some of the visitors thought this all to be rather ghoulish, and I suppose it was. But it had the definite sense of sanctity; silence was automatic, not enforced. And the thought occurred that these were men who had spent all their lives living and preaching the Gospel. In death, their bones still spoke.

Then it was off to Saint Mary Major; an extremely large Church that, inside, drips with ornate gold. It was late afternoon by this point, and upon entry, we found a priest at the main altar, leading in the Rosary. There was a quiet murmur of responses, with the priest’s clear voice ringing out. There were barriers to tourists from entering the Nave during liturgies, but these were generally ignored. We honoured this request, but I did get some good photographs.

The afternoon was moving on, and our driver had a date with his girlfriend, so we didn’t want to get him into trouble. Our last Church was S. John Lateran, the Cathedral Parish Church of the Bishop of Rome.

We saw the Sacred Steps, where penitents climb up the stairs on their knees, reciting prayers as they go. I certainly needed to do this, but my orthopaedic doctor would have scolded me severely had I done so.

Upstairs was a small, ornate papal chapel, and a larger chapel where Saturday night Mass was taking place. After a few moments of silent participation and prayers, we went downstairs where Octavio awaited, and soon we were back at the Convent; it began raining.

Sunday--walking through the Vatican

Sunday was Corpus Christi Sunday, and the Sisters informed us there would be Mass at 0745; but also cautioned Kevin strictly that we were to maintain the Eucharist Fast of nothing to eat prior: “Mass first, then breakfast.” As that is my custom anyway, this was no hardship. It was a quiet, reflective Mass by an Indian priest. Though we didn’t understand the Italian of the Mass or the homily, the Mass is the Mass regardless of the language.

After a leisurely breakfast (Saturday had been like two days crammed into one), and finalising/changing travel plans, we started walking to the Vatican. We got close, but took a wrong turn and ended up walking around the outer wall. We retraced our steps, finally arrived at the gate and walked into S. Peter’s Square, and paused for a moment; just taking it all in. We wandered around, heads up and jaws down. There were enormous crowds, and a queue of about 2 hours to get inside the Basilica.

We finally found the entrance to the Museum, and realised we would have to take a taxi in the morning, as it was on the far, opposite side of the Vatican from our Convent. We found a corner restaurant and cafe, and stopped for some beer for Kevin and some of the house wine for me; the waiter brought out appetizers. Then we walked home, and got ready for Monday.

Monday--up early, pack, race to catch walking tour; train to Naples; dinner

We had to be packed, checked out and at the Museum entrance by 0745. We made all our connections and Marcello was our guide. It was a small group of 12, and he had iPod like devices for us, and his microphone broadcast to all of us in his group. We were one of the first groups in, shortly after 8AM. The gardens were set up with identical stations where individual groups could be instructed in the symbolism of much of the art, and especially the Sistine Chapel

We made our way through room after room of art, and I’ll (eventually) have these up on facebook; really far too much to describe.

Of course, the Sistine Chapel was the star of the show. It was simply awe-inspiring to be in the site of so many significant times in the life of the Church and history; most recently of course for the election of Pope Francis. No photography or speaking was allowed;. I appreciated how the guards kept sushing everyone to silence. We slowly made our way through the Chapel, letting our eyes take in all the intricacies of the art and space.

By the time we reached S. Peter’s Church itself, the throngs were there, and it was crowded and a bit noisy. It was impossible to approach some of the more popular chapels; particularly where Blessed Pope John Paul II is buried.

After the tour, some of us stayed behind for a bit of extra credit time with the Guide, who then pointed us to a place where we could get a good pizza; and we later saw him there as well!

Then it was to the taxi stand and to the convent to fetch our bags, and then to the Termini; central rail station. We hopped on the high speed train and little over an hour later, were in Naples and soon at the Pumphrey’s flat, where we sat on the balcony in the afternoon breeze, and enjoyed Fr Michael and Elizabeth’s wonderful hospitality, complete with pork chops on a Weber grill.

Posted by stbrides 06:36 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

To Rome

Thursday, add day on the train; Friday to Roma Termini, Convent & Kevin

To Italy--Thursday & Friday
Thursday it was up early and off to the TGV train station. Transferring in Lyons, I had the unexpected surprise of learning that I would be travelling through the French Alps! Very quickly, we began going up into the mountains, passing lakes and seeing souring peaks in the distance. The architecture began changing slowly to distinctive Alpine homes.

The trip required two changes of trains, but I found this to be easier to navigate than I thought it would be. I’m still apprehensive about navigating all these routes by myself and fear getting hopelessly lost; but I’m doing okay.

Arriving at my hotel by taxi, I found myself directly opposite the Central Station, where I will catch my train to Rome the following day. The hotel was small, sleek, modern and cheap; obviously designed for travellers who need an inexpensive night along the way, such as myself.

I set off for a light supper and to get a new Italian SIM card for my phone; successful in both endeavours.

Friday--to Rome
I deliberately gave myself the morning off; thinking I would do some sight seeing. Instead, I found myself altering plans. Fr Michael had a business trip to Spain, and the original plans would no longer work. I spoke on telephone to Fr Michael & Elizabeth (using my new Italian number), and we got our schedules aligned.

I did get some exploring in, but the sleek Milano shopping district will have to wait until I am here with the Pumphrey’s.

On the train to Rome: My train is the express Rossa, which is nearly deserted, and I’ve been clocking speeds of up to 165MPH; and it’s a direct train with no stops. Soon, I will be at the Roma Termini, and a short taxi ride to the convent and meeting Kevin.

Kevin and I met at the Convent, a few minutes walk from S. Peter’s. After getting caught up, we went to a pizzeria one of the sisters recommended; and there we continued catching up. After dinner, we walked along the street to see where it led, rounded the corner, and the golden dome of S. Peter’s loomed in front of us in the evening sun. A great start to our Roman pilgrimage.

Posted by stbrides 07:43 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The Visit to Avignon

Okay, not the summer in Provence, but most of a week

Avignon, Provence (south of France)--Monday- Thursday

On Monday, the weather was warm and sunny, so I wandered about. I had my map in hand, and enjoyed walking through all the small side streets; there seems to have been a surprise around every corner.

On the advice of the hotel, I had lunch on a plaza away from the touristy centre, and enjoyed fish and rice in the warm sunny air.

In the afternoon, I took the week’s only English language walking tour sponsored by the Tourism Board. Our guide spoke English, but with such a heavy French accent it was difficult at times to understand her.

She helped us to understand the difference between the mediaeval and the 18th century age of the Republic, simply by looking at the architecture. Essentially, Avignon was the home of the Papacy for 100 years (in the 1300s). But when the Popes returned to Italy, Avignon remained a Papal state, and not part of the kingdom of France at all.

With the French revolution, most of the Church’s holdings were confiscated, and much of the medieval buildings destroyed. It out with the old and in with the new, French Republic style.

What was preserved was the magnificent Palace of the Popes; built when popes and cardinals needed new buildings, residences and chapels. Bringing the Papacy to Avignon was an economic engine to construction, arts and textiles. When the Papacy returned to Rome, Avignon’s prominence remained.

Tuesday, mailed home package of Starbucks mugs, trinkets and my last very warm turtleneck sweater (don’t think I’ll need that anymore).

It was rainy and cool, but little wind. Again I walked the city, this time following several self guided walking tours. I toured the museum home of Doucat, a French collector who had several impressionist paintings. There was an opera playing that night, and I obtained tickets: Romeo & Juliet, sung in French, of course.

When the rain subsided, I toured the famous half bridge, and treated myself to a sorbet as I walked. When the rain started once more, I went to Notre Dame Cathedral adjacent to the Palace of the Popes. As I walked into the dark, gothic Church, I noticed a vested priest; so I followed him into a small chapel. On the Altar was the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the Monstrance, with lit candles: it was time for Vespers. I stayed and could follow along the format, but was hopeless with the language. I hummed the tunes and chants, and at the conclusion the priest gave us Benediction. There were two youngish (mid-30s) nuns, but the rest of the congregation were men.

Though it was closing, one of the nuns from Vespers recognised me and let me into the Chapel of Pope John XXII. There I saw some stunning vestments and a beautiful private chapel. It seemed a perfect ending to the day, and I went outside to the rain and a deserted square; deserted that is, but for a young German guitarist singing his heart out in English in the rain. He was quite good, so I bought his CD; a much smarter way to support one’s self than people tossing you pennies.

This was my van guided tour group to see the sights and monuments around Provence. Imagine when my guide, David, showed up in a Mercedes-Benz with two very nice Korean ladies in the back seat. I asked him if he was taking us to the tour bus, and he replied he was the four bus! Well, okay then! I could seriously get used to this; everyone else was on the van.

Our first stop was to the Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard, constructed in about 100BC, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides being beautifully constructed, it was extremely functional and well engineered. Rome wanted the native people to see their engineering prowess, to intimidate them; it still works today. When the Roman troops left, the barbarians came and the Dark Ages swept over, it would be over 1,000 before the engineering skills were regained to build something similar.

Of course, in the Rhône Valley, Rome left but the troops did not. This area was an area that retired soldiers (after 20 years of bearing arms for Rome) were given their pension and a plot of land. This is what Trip Advisor had to say about it:

David then took us to Sainte Remi, a small village where Vincent Van Gogh spent several years painting. It was at this point that he realised that he health was not good, and committed himself to an asylum (he suffered from manic-depression and epilepsy). Because he had committed himself voluntarily, he was allowed to go out during the day, and he did so. We passed through the olive grove where he painted several of his works.

Sainte Remi is also famous for their market on Wednesdays, and we browsed through the stalls, sampling olive oil, breads, etc. One of the ladies bought a whole quart of strawberries, and continued to share all day long. I love Provence strawberries!

We also walked past a house where the Marquis de Sade lived during his bouts of escape from the Paris prison, and then past where Nostradamus lived in the Jewish Quarter. Oddly, in his lifetime, he was best known as the personal physician to King Louis XVI; whereas we know him best today because of his late life dabbling in astronomy.

Then it was to a Chateau des Baux, a fortress city on a hill, which for centuries dominated the area. Once you see the photographs, you’ll understand why it was impregnable until modern warfare in the 16th century enabled a successful siege against it. It was an area of mining: first for limestone, then for baxault (sp) (used in making aluminum), and now for tourists. One of the highlights was the chapel hewn into the rock.

Arles was next, an ancient city which had the foresight to back Julius Caesar against General Pompey. Caesar won, of course, and Arles became a major Roman hub, eventually having a coliseum, a forum, the largest baths in Gaul and a hippodrome for racing chariots. We saw the Yellow Cafe which Van Gogh painted, along with several other of his sites. Arles is where Van Gogh first settled, but was chased out, due to his cantankerous nature.

As David drove, I asked how this former Australian had ended up in Provence, France. As it turns out, he has lived all over, including 3 years in San Francisco. He trained in wines, becoming a sommelier. But though a highly skilled profession in a nation passionate about wine, he moved on to being a tour guide, as this is what pays the rent.

He also likes the ideals of the French revolution of equality; where no one is too rich and no one is too poor. It was fascinating to hear the perspective of someone not French in origin, but who chose to live here, and who embraces both the ideals and culture of France.

Finally, it was back to the Avignon area, where we went to a chocolate factory, and engaged in pairing chocolate with wine; a perfect ending to the day!

Ciao, Provence!

Posted by stbrides 07:21 Archived in France Comments (0)

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