A Travellerspoint blog

July 2013

In Venice with Sister Debbie

The Town a Sailor Could Love!


Sunday 30 June

After prayers we had breakfast, and then it was off to Venice!


The train wasn’t until later, so we got packed up, stashed our bags in a secure site in the Convent, then went for one last stroll.

Our train was the ultra fast one and, upon landing, we bought the Venice Pass, which allowed us 3 days of transit and some museum discounts. The waterbus system is a well designed one. Once you figure out what number your bus is, you hop on and then hop off. We stopped at our stop, and met the manager of our apartment. As it turns out, our flat was a 3” walk from the bus stop.

We settled in. This was a second floor walkup, and it was a modern flat with a living room with sofa bed, bedroom, a/c and very modern bath. We figured out things, then went for a walk.

I suggested a map, but Debbie has an innate sense of direction; besides, as Rick Steves says, it’s an island! How lost can you get? We wandered all over the back streets, and found our way to the Rialto Bridge, which was very crowded from fellow tourists and folks from the cruise ships.

We were hungry, so wandered down away from the Rialto until the restaurants got less and less crowded, and found a table. It was touristy, but with a great view; seated right next to the canal. So, it was a good evening meal. Then, in the dark, it was time to wander back. Fortunately, I had Debbie with me, and we found ourselves back at the flat in no time.


On the way back, we found a shop that dealt with Murano glass; one of the specialities here. I found a couple of good cuff links, and Debbie found much more glass to buy. Later, we were to see the owner of the shop at a restaurant we were to lunch at the next day; that he and his wife were eating there was a good sign.

The next day was a very early wakeup, so it was an early toes-up.

Monday 01 July

We were both up very, very early for a tour by a professional photographer, a Thank You gift from sister Debbie. What a great surprise!

Marco, a professional photographer, is Venetian by birth and upbringing, but his photo agency is based in London; he gives these tours on the side. He says the morning light is the best (and it is), so we met at 0700 at the Rialto Bridge.

Marco was amazing; simply amazing. He had made enquiries on my photographic equipment and expertise, and started our tour by giving both Debbie and me advice on how to use our respective cameras to their best advantage. Then, it was off!

Marco showed us all over Venice: the back streets and the main areas, giving history lessons along the way. As we took our photos, he would look at them, approve, or gently suggest another setting or another angle. In a few instances, he took the camera and took a shot of us both together, and I was consistently amazed at his sense of composition and the final result. This is why Marco is the professional photographer!

Then it was back to the apartment for a refresher, then ½ block walk to a restaurant alongside the canal, where we split a pizza and salad.

Then we hopped the waterbus and toured the canals until we got off at Piazza San Marco.


The crush of the crowds was frightful, but Debbie and me found a small park. We found a bench in the shade, and rested. We were to meet Cousin Scott and family in a bit of time.

At 4.30, we wandered round the Tower, and there found Scott, wife Bessie and daughter Kristen. We spent a lot of time catching up on one another’s lives. It was hard to believe that they are living in Atlanta, Debbie is in LA and I am in Virginia, yet we were all in Venice at the same time. After chatting away for a long time, then we started walking, looking for a good restaurant. After wandering round, we were headed to show them our apartment when we spied a little restaurant on a small square, it looked good to us, and so we stopped there for supper. It turned out to be an excellent choice in the open air.

Then it was off to the gondaleria, to find us a gondola ride in the dark night of Venice. After a few moments, one pulled up, and we gingerly got in. For the next 40”, we silently glided down the Grand Canal and up and down narrow alleyways. Instinctively, we all whispered; none of us wanting to disturb the magic of the evening. As we pulled back into gondola center, several other gondolas were tied up; the evening shift was coming to a close for them.

We wandered back across the Rialto Bridge, our apartment one direction, their hotel in the other, said our farewells, kept talking, said farewell again and talked some more. None of us could believe our good fortunes of all being in Venice at the same time, and the warm glow of the evening and wonder of the gondola ride was gently overtaken by the joy of renewed family relationships under the most incomprehensible of circumstances.

Tuesday 02 July 2013

It was a late night, so we slept in a bit, but both of us still woke up prior to the alarm. Showered, breakfasted, coffeed and packed (I invented those words), we were out the door by 0900. We dropped off our luggage at the manager’s B&B just down the road, and continued exploring Venice, one last time.

Arriving at the Cathedral just as it openned, we stood in line for the free admission. As impressive as the Cathedral is from the exterior, nothing quite prepares one for the interior. Milan and Florence catch the eye from the outside; at Venice one must enter the interior to find true joy; perhaps a metaphor for much of life and human interactions.

The interior is awash in gold iconographic mosaics. One could easily mistakenly think that one was in a Greek or Russian Orthodox Church. Debbie had downloaded the Rick Steves self-guided tour, and we both used this to walk through this most stunning of Churches. At a side chapel, I knelt for a few moments of silent prayer and lit a candle for the people of S. Bride’s Church, my family & friends, and all those I carry in my heart.

Coming out onto the Square, we ambled to where we knew the public toilets were on the far end, and Debbie found her last souvenirs in Venice.

At the end of the Square, we noticed the Museum had a Cafe, so we stopped in for an early lunch. We ended up with a table overlooking the entire Square and the Basilica at the far end.

Still having a few hours to kill before we needed to fetch our cases and take the waterbus to the train station, we went through the museum and were amazed all over again at some wonderful treasures of this ancient & wealthy trading city.

Debbie had arranged for us to travel non-stop on one of the new train systems that competes with the government one. Trenitalia, the government one, is fine and I’ve really enjoyed the high speed trains (part of Eurostar). But Italo is a private train company (co-owner also owns Ferrari) that we decided to try. It’s a 4-5 hour ride from Venice to Naples, and is very comfortable. I like also how it cruises at 290-300 KPH (180-187 MPH).

So, tonight is in the home of dear friends Father Michael & Elizabeth Pumphrey; where Kevin and I enjoyed their hospitality, and where I shamelessly lounged about for a week prior to Debbie’s arrival. Elizabeth assures me that she and Debbie WILL go shopping!

Here’s what I liked about Venice: its sheer beauty; how the residents have taken the hardship of fleeing the Barbarians invading Italy during the 5th century when the Roman Empire was collapsing and knowing the Germanic tribes’ horses couldn’t touch them because they had water separating them (much like we have in America); the building up of a city on pilings, one island at a time; all the side streets & shoppes; and of course, the food.

As I reflect on Venice, I also understand how they were oriented towards the Orient: that is, that they were an Eastward looking nation. They were perfectly situated to trade with the Greeks and others to the East, and were therefore influenced by Greek/Eastern styles.

Of course, the sad scenario was that of the Fourth Crusade.


Much of what we enjoy at Venice today was plundered goods from fellow Christians. Still, that doesn’t stop one from enjoying what is currently there; though my Orthodox (Eastern Christian) friends still cite this as a source of division and hostility between the East and the West. Venice has declined to return their plunder to the rightful owners; however, perhaps the Muslim Turks would not be good stewards of it in any case.

Oddly enough, what caused the economic decline of Venice was the discovery of the New World. In AD1492, Columbus (an Italian) sailed the Ocean Blue, and discovered the Western Hemisphere. The balance of power and influence shifted from East to West; from Venice to Spain.

I’m certain that the Venetian leaders thought their world would go on forever. I think my world in America and the Pax Americana, will go on forever. Hmmmmm.

What do I think will go on forever in my world that simply will not? Why will that matter?

Posted by stbrides 10:48 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

In Florence with Sister Debbie

Art, History & Food: What More Do We Need?


Thursday 27 June

We had stayed up late to pack, and had an early reveille to get to the Roma Termini in time for our high speed train to Florence. As it turned out, we were able to hail a taxi one block from the flat and were there in plenty of time. The train zipped us to Florence in about 1’ 20”, at speeds up 187MPH, but in absolute steadiness and comfort.

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Our convent where we were staying was less than one kilometer away, and we elected to walk the short distance. But we found ourselves wandering round and round the Cathedral, looking for the right street. We finally found the convent, and were treated with gracious hospitality, amidst some confusion as to what to do with us. They are French speaking nuns in Italy, and Debbie’s rudimentary French helped them to understand that though we had the same surname, we were brother and sister, and thus really did need two rooms.

We were shown to our rooms; mine was en suite (Debbie’s shower and toilet were down the hall, as is very common in Europe)! We had a late lunch at a touristy pizzeria nearby, and fell into some conversation with an Australian couple that are on a world-wide holiday of six month; he retired from the Australian Air Force.

What I really liked about our location was that we were only a 5” walk to the central Piazza, and that when we walked to the end of our alley and looked to the right, there was the dome of the Duomo, big as life, and staring at us!

Due to a short night, we each took a lie down, and met again for our Twilight Walking Tour. With a map and some sense of where we were, we went to our meeting place at the Piazza Republica, and met with Regina our Guide, and a young couple also on the tour, originally from Chicago, but stationed in London. It was a wonderful introduction to Florence. Dinner was at a little place on the way home, where we had a corner table overlooking the street. It was a very late supper, so we both ate lightly; in my case, a p ham that was hot, topped with melons and a yogurt sauce. It is a traditional antipasto, but a twist that showed some great creativity.

Friday 28 June

Unfortunately, neither of us slept well; in my case because the room was hot and stuffy, and I was situated on a street with loud scooters and conversations on the street below, for which the buildings on the narrow street provided excellent amplification

We had purchased the Fierenza Pass: one pass that lets you into most museums and all public transport for a set fee. We met our tour guide Paula, and were off to see Florence. This bridge reminds me of London Bridge, and was spared both by German and Allied forces during WWII.


After some quiet time at the Convent, we were on our way to an early dinner (7PM), when we happened upon the Church we had seen that has free concerts. There was a surpliced Anglican Choir from America queuing up for the processional. We had seen the posters and intended to attend, but had forgotten even what day of the week it was! The Choir was from Richmond, Virginia: S. James’ Church. We enjoyed an hour of a cappela music; primarily mediaeval music by Palestrina and Gabrieli, but closing off with three American spirituals. Debbie, who sings in her church choir, was in 7th heaven, and straining mightily not to join in. The acoustics were outstanding.

Frommers had this to say about the Church:
Church Concerts -- Many Florentine churches fill the autumn with organ, choir, and chamber orchestra concerts, mainly of classical music. The tiny Santa Maria de' Ricci (tel. 055-215-044) on Via del Corso seems always to have music wafting out of it; slipping inside to occupy a pew is occasionally free, but sometimes there's a small charge. Around the corner at Santa Margherita 7, the Chiesa di Dante (tel. 055-289-367) puts on quality concerts of music for, and often played by, youths and children (tickets required). The Florentine Chamber Orchestra, Via E. Poggi 6 (tel. 055-783-374), also runs an autumn season in the Orsanmichele; tickets are available at Box Office or at the door an hour before the 9pm shows.

Dinner was at a steak house, which made very, very good steak.

Saturday 29 June

This was a free day to roam on our own, based upon the tours we had dome. Debbie was determined to climb to top of dome of the Duomo, which is doable and has 400+ steps. My knees vetoed this for me, and instead I went stayed feet firmly on the ground with my camera. Whilst there, I found a religious goods store which had a good set of crystal cruets, which I purchased for Low Masses at S. Bride’s.


In the afternoon, it was off to the Pitti Palace, used by Florentine royal families. Briefly it was occupied by Napoleon. The opulence and beauty were overwhelming, and we eventually headed to the gardens behind the palace.



After some downtime at the Convent, we set off for our final dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by Fr Michael & Elizabeth and their friends at the USO and wine merchants Mike & Mary. The fish was wonderful, the wine bottled specifically for the restaurant, and the tieramassou delicious. Then it was back to the Convent to pack and travel to Venice.

On the way home, we again heard music filling the street. We followed the sound, and came to the House of Dante where there was a cello concert going on. We had looked for this house earlier, having been introduced to it by one of our guides; but we could never find it. In the end, we simply had to follow our ears.

Here’s what I liked about Florence: it was the place where the Renaissance started; a place where art, humanistic thinking, faith, renewal of intellectual life, commerce & lots of money, all came together; all together and all at the same time. As Paula, our guide, observed: it was a gift from God to the city of Florence that all these came together at the same time. What will God do again; not just for Florence, but in our own towns and families and lives? Good questions indeed!

Posted by stbrides 08:27 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

In Rome with Sister Debbie

Siblings Behaving Well

This overall blog has some gaps in time and location, but this section I’ve completed.

Saturday 22 June 2013
After enjoying the tranquil hospitality of the Pumphrey’s, Elizabeth dropped me off at the Naples airport, round the corner from Fr Michael’s office, and I caught the local bus to the train station to travel to Rome, and begin the next adventure in the Sabbatical: the arrival of sister Debbie.

At Rome, a bus was supposed to take me right there, but after several conflicting directions from people, I simply hopped into a taxi, and was there in 10 minutes. The apartment is roughly equidistant between the Vatican and the central tourist sites in Rome. It is a two bedroom, two bathroom ‘arts’ apartment with marble, wood and antique furniture everywhere, decorated in old world charm with 12 foot ceilings. Flavia, our contact, showed me where the market is, and I purchased coffee, milk, eggs and fruit for our breakfasts. After a wander about for orientation, I found a shady pizzeria and had a supper of pizza and wine.

Sunday 23 June

After a long catch-up sleep, breakfast and prayers, I walked to the centrally located Piazza Cavour, one block from the Tiber, and caught the express bus to the airport to pick up Debbie. At the airport, I had a sandwich and we got caught up on her travel adventures, then hopped the express bus to the Piazza hear our apartment.

We got settled in, then walked across the Tiber to meet our guide and take the evening Twilight Walking Tour of Rome. Rome is enchanting at twilight, and we saw all the tourist sites (Spanish Steps/Trevi Fountain, etc.) with lots of history and insights the casual observer would miss). Off the Piazza Novano, we found an al fresco restaurant specialising in salads, and shared a good salad and people watched. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/italy/rome/sights/piazza/piazza-navona

On the way home, heard choral music and went into the Narthex of the Rome Museum to find a high school choir performing in the open ceiling courtyard. The audience was filled with what seemed to be parents, grandparents and casual observes such as ourselves. They closed with several American spirituals (sung enthusiastically with Italian accents!), and then we wandered home to our apartment.

What a wonderful first day, with this unexpected gift of music.

Monday 24 June

After breakfast in the flat, we walked to the Vatican Museum.


Kevin and I had taken a tour, but Debbie had arranged a Vatican-sponsored ‘Art and Faith’ tour with a Sister Emmanuella, from Manchester, England. She was full of joy and enthusiasm, and skillfully used the art to teach the faith. The Holy Father has declared this the Year of Faith, and challenged everyone involved at the Vatican Museum to teach clearly the Christian Faith as portrayed through the arts, and Sr Emmanuella was certainly up to the task, speaking openly about the Catholic Faith of the past 2,000 years, but in such a way that was accessible to Protestants and secularists alike. I seriously pondered kidnapping her and taking her back to S. Bride’s for a Retreat, but I didn’t wish to set back Anglican/Catholic relations any further.

After a run through the gift shop, we encountered a high school choir from Chicago, all dressed up for a performance, working their way through S. Peter’s Square. I’m guessing they were going for Vespers.

Dinner was on a rooftop restaurant with a view of S. Peter’s in the distance, recommended by the Pumphrey’s and the USO. We had a whole sea bass which was caked in herbs and mounded with rock salt, then baked. After the waitress said, ‘The chef would like to prepare for you a very special dish’, we gave in and were glad we did. It was so delicious, but Debbie and I regret we didn’t get a picture of it.

Tuesday 25 June

We were up early to walk to the Metro station and activated Roma Passes. These are passes that, for a set fee, give you access to the Metro, and speed-pass entry to most museums. We met guide at Colosseum and toured Colosseum, Palantine Hill and Forum for about 3 hours. Following his advice, we looked for a restaurant away from the tourist areas, and found lunch at a small restaurant with hand written menus, and only four outside tables.

After a rest, shower and nap (it was very hot, and Debbie was still jet-lagged), we headed out once more. We crossed the Tiber, and went down the trendy shopping street, and again past the Spanish Steps. We were hungry, so didn’t stop. We made it all the way to the Pantheon, and to the one restaurant on the Piazza our guide recommended to us as being worthwhile. There, we sat on the sidewalk, stared at the Pantheon and had a good dinner with a bottle of wine; mine was the veal with parma ham. After, we found the gellatoria we had visited with our guide, which has 150 flavours (two days, two visits to the gellatoria). Then it was a slow and rambling walk home in the twilight.

Wednesday 26 June

Because of the very full day on Tuesday, this was a slow morning, as we caught up on sleep; deliberately unstructured. This was the day to go to Barbiconi, the Pope’s tailor shop, to get fitted for new Vestments. I was measured for a new cassock (30+ years a priest, and this was my first custom one); and a new suit and lace cotta and Mass alb.

From there, we cabbed across town to Galleria Borghese & had a light lunch in the museum cafe. Groups are only admitted at certain times for a 2 hour block. Ours was at 3PM, and it started raining as we waited.

One simply can’t describe the paintings and sculptures. Cardinal Borghese, who was from a wealthy family, built this entire gallery to wine and dine the local politicians and movers & shakers. What amazed us both was that every ceiling was painted; like a lessor Sistine Chapel in every room, except that classical Greek mythology was included as well. Particularly, I found the paintings of figures lining the ceiling to be so realistically 3 dimensional that I wasn’t sure if they were paintings or sculptures. Several had feet or toes hanging over the side, and I had to look carefully to ensure it was only a painting. This is one website:

We walked the long way home through the park, took a rest and shower, then headed out to central Rome (Piazza di Populo), and had one last meal in Rome at a quiet restaurant. Then it was one final walk through of the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and a stroll through Piazza Navona on our way home to the flat and to pack. We were off to Florence the following morning.

Posted by stbrides 08:16 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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