Our trip began on February 28, 2005 and we returned on March 15, 2005. Below I will give a short day by day explanation of what we did.
I might mention that nearly all of the photos inside churches were taken without the use of a flash or tripod since these were not allowed. In fact, some of these places would not allow any photos at all. The latter included the building that housed Michaelangelo's David.
These photos are only a sampling of those I took. I took nearly 800 photos, and one of my traveling companions, Lawrence Candrian, took a similar number of photos. All of the photos here are ones I took unless otherwise noted. I did include many of Lawrence's photos too, but they are marked as such.
The menu on the left is laid out day by day as our trip progressed. To view the photos, select a day from the menu. You will then see a series of thumbnail photos. Click on the first one (top left) and from there you will be able to view a larger version in a slide show format by selecting "next" or "previous". While these photos are not full sized, my hope is that they will be of sufficient size for viewing, while not causing too many problems for people with dial-up connections.
Monday, February 28, 2005 -
We arrived at MSP airport and met with our traveling companions - Alice and Lawrence Candrian, and Sr. Ivo Schoch, when they arrived on their flight from Bismarck, North Dakota. After having lunch together at the airport we boarded our Northwest Airlines afternoon flight to Amsterdam. (8 hours flight time)
Tuesday, March 1, 2005 -
We arrived in Amsterdam early Tuesday morning. Because of the time differences, we kind of lost a day. At the Amsterdam airport we had to go through European customs and show our passports. Customs did hold my carry-on bag for closer examination, but after going through my bag they allowed us through without a problem. We later boarded our 2 hour flight to Rome.
After arriving in Rome and collecting our baggage, we met Sr. Ann Schoch who was waiting for us. Sr. Ann is living and working in Rome at the SSND Generalate which also became our home while in Rome. Sr. Ann, in addition to providing us with a place to stay in Rome (along with the other nuns of the Generalate of course), also was our tour guide and interpreter (when needed). She also planned out our itinerary for the entire trip, and made reservations for all of our accommodations. She really put a lot of work into this trip which was much appreciated by all of us.
Sr. Ann picked us up in a van and transported us to the Generalate. After transferring our baggage to our rooms, Sr. Ann suggested she take us to see how the public transportation system worked in Rome. At this point we were all pretty tired after our travels and not having slept for more than 24 hours, but we did agree to go.
We boarded a bus and headed toward downtown Rome. After a short ride on the bus, we transferred to the subway for the rest of the way. Upon arrival, we went and visited the Trevi Fountain, and later the Basilica of Santa Maria. Sr. Ann also took us to the Termini which is the main transportation hub in Rome where we caught a subway back to the Generalate (again transferring to a bus for the last part).
The subway trip was rather eventful for me as I had my wallet removed by a pick pocket! However, I realized it right away and confronted the attractive young lady that had done it. Luckily, we found my wallet on the floor on the other side of this young lady with everything intact. Since we had left for this little excursion shortly after arriving in Rome, I had not had time to transfer my money and credit cards to the money belt I had brought with (a necessity). But I was carrying my wallet in my inside jacket pocket that had a velcro closure. In addition, I had been holding on to that part of my jacket for added protection. However, in the crush inside the subway car (like sardines is an under statement), my arm was getting crushed at an awkward manner (by this young lady) and I had to let go of the wallet for only a couple of seconds while I extracted my arm. This is when my wallet disappeared.
One of the things that surprised me about Rome was the abundance of beggars. It seemed like they were everywhere. They ranged from a woman half laying, half sitting on the steps to the subway, to a very young boy playing the accordion on the subway, to a woman with a small child and a sign asking for money. They all had one thing in common - they all had a paper cup for your donations.
Wednesday, March 2, 2005 -
After a good nights sleep, we got up early to head downtown to pick up our rental vehicle. Shortly after picking up our VW Transporter (a 9 passenger van), some smoke started coming out from under the hood. It appeared that they may have gotten some type of fluid on the alternator, but were not sure. We wound up taking it back and getting another vehicle of the same type.
Because of all this we got a later start than planned, but now we were off to Pienza. We traveled most of the way on the A1 highway which is a 6 lane (3 in either direction) super highway and toll road. The A1 is a very good road. Interestingly, although they have speed limits posted, they seem to be just suggestions and virtually no one (except trucks) paid any attention to them, and the police didn't bother anyone. Trucks are required to use the right lane only, which left 2 lanes for cars.
Pienza was the first of several walled cities that we visited. Having started late, we were ready for lunch when we arrived. We found a nice little spot to eat. After lunch we toured the rest of this fairly small city. We visited some shops and toured the Cathedral while there, and took in the surrounding scenery. Our weather was very nice here, a little cool, but not cold. One of the things of note about these walled cities is that they are all located on hill tops (at least all that we visited).
After finishing our tour of Pienza, we traveled a couple of miles south from town to the 100 year old stone farm house where we would spend the night. This house was renovated by the owner, who lives nearby, and is now rented out for tourists. The owner used to live here, but built a new house on another part of his farm. He grows olives, and extracts and bottles the oil himself.
After getting settled in the farm house, we traveled a short distance to another walled city, Monticchiello for a very nice supper at the La Porta restaurant. This was also where we started using the Bancomats (ATM machines). We found these ATM machines everywhere and we made many stops at these machines throughout our trip.
Thursday, March 3, 2005
We got up bright and early and after stopping at the owners house to settle up our bill and see his olive machinery, we headed for Siena.
Arriving in Siena, we found our hotel (The Hotel Minerva) and luckily they had indoor parking. The parking in many of these cities is hard to find, especially when you have a large vehicle like we were driving. Sr. Ann did a good job of selecting places to stay that included parking. Our hotel was located just outside the wall of Siena. The only people that are allowed to drive their vehicles in these walled cities are people that live there and have permits. Everyone else walks or takes a bus (when available).
Siena is a much larger city than Pienza, and therefore is also much busier and there are many more shops and places of interest. Unfortunately, we had the worst weather of our entire trip while in Siena. We had rain which later changed to a wet snow. As I stated earlier, these walled cities are on hilltops and are therefore at higher elevations than the surrounding area which makes them more prone to colder weather.
One of the highlights of our visit to Siena was their Cathedral. Where ever we went in Italy it seems like there was a huge church every couple of blocks, but the Cathedral in Siena was one of the most impressive. Some churches are magnificent inside with rather plain exteriors, and some are beautiful outside and somewhat plain inside. This one was impressive inside and out.
We did our usual browsing at the many interesting shops, but it was not a pleasant day to be walking around. We stopped for supper at a nice restaurant on the Pizza del Campo where Lawrence and I tried the wild boar. It wasn't too bad.
Friday, March 4, 2005
Once again we got a good nights sleep (with all of the walking we did each day, sleeping was not a problem), and after having breakfast at our hotel we headed out for Florence with a stop at San Gimignano.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at San Gimignano it was very foggy and we were unable to see the views of the country side. The fog had lifted somewhat by the time we left there, but we still didn't get to see the panorama of the surrounding area. San Gimignano was another walled city, and they had some interesting shops here, and the ladies did make some purchases here. Best of all for at least some of us, they had a very good Gelato (Italian ice cream) shop here. We found Gelato shops to be a favorite place to stop in several cities.
After spending a few hours in San Gimignano, we headed for Florence. In Florence we actually drove into the walled city since the place we were staying was inside the wall.
After locating where we were staying, they opened the gate to the courtyard so we could drive our van in for unloading and parking. The gate was obviously made for the smaller vehicles used throughout Italy as we had to fold our outside mirrors in to fit through the gate. Once in the courtyard we unloaded our baggage and had the interesting experience of dragging them up 84 steps to our rooms.
Once we were checked in and had our luggage in our rooms, we headed out to explore the interesting city of Florence. Florence is a good sized city with even more to see and do than Siena. One of our first stops was the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. This bridge is lined on both sides with many jewelry shops. My wife Beasy did manage to find some things she liked here (she didn't have much trouble finding things she liked anywhere in Italy), and purchased some items at one of the Ponte Vecchio shops.
We walked around exploring the city, and of course visiting many shops. We also visited the museum where Michaelangelo's famous statue of David was located. David is about 17 feet tall and is quite impressive. The detail is unbelievable.
While in Florence, I noticed that I was starting to fill up the memory cards on my digital camera. I found an "Internet Cafe" and had them transfer some of my photos to a CD freeing up some of my camera's memory.
We had a late supper at the Trattoria Borgo Antico where I had my first taste of the Italian version of spaghetti. It was a bit different than I am used to, but good.
Saturday, March 5, 2005
Today we explored more of Florence. We started walking after breakfast, and were out exploring all day and well into the evening. Among the interesting things we saw today were the Duomo and it's Baptistery building. The Duomo, while not as extravagant inside as some others we have seen, was magnificent from the outside, and very large. As with many old buildings we have seen, the Duomo is undergoing some exterior restoration work.
Earlier, we visited the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine which was located very near to where we were staying. This church was very plain on the outside, but beautiful on the inside.
We of course also visited many shops and of course the Bazaar where several purchases were made. This included a leather Ostrich coat with a fur lining that caught Beasy's eye.
We attended a church service at the Church of Santa Croce this evening, and stopped for supper afterwards.
Sunday, March 6, 2005
This morning we had breakfast and brought our luggage back down those 84 steps. We loaded up the van and walked over to visit another church, The Church of San Frediano, before hitting the road for Cortona and Assisi.
We wound up spending a good part of the day in Cortona. Among the interesting things we saw in Cortona was the Villa of Frances Mayes the author of "Under The Tuscan Sun". Much of the movie centers around this Villa.
We also visited the Church of Santa Margherita. This church is by itself just outside of Cortona with panoramic views of the country side. The road leading to and from this church was a narrow dirt mountain road. We were unlucky enough to meet a vehicle going the other direction on this road as we were leaving. On the one side of the road is the face of a cliff, while the other side is a steep drop off with no guard rails. We had to do some very tight maneuvering to slowly get by one another.
We had lunch at Cory's restaurant which was very nice and had spectacular views of the country side. It was a classy place and had doilies on the plates. Alice inquired about buying a doily to use as a pattern. The owner said he would give one to each of the ladies which both pleased and surprised them.
While all of the walled cities we have visited have many streets that go up and down, Cortona only had one street that was level. Every thing else we either were climbing or going down hill, and many streets were quite steep. As with all of the walled cities, we parked the van and walked everywhere.
Another place we visited was the Convent of Santa Chiara where Sr. Ann had done a retreat. Sr. Ann visited a bit with friends here and gave us a short tour of the place before we continued our exploration of Cortona. As with most places in Cortona the views from the convent were quite spectacular.
After doing some shopping and looking around Cortona for awhile, we climbed our way back up to where the van was parked and headed for Assisi. Our trip to Assisi took us through the town of Perugia where we experienced a quick snow storm with huge snow flakes. It didn't last long and the snow melted as it hit the ground, but it was very pretty while it lasted.
After stopping for fuel in Perugia, we continued on to Assisi arriving there after dark. Unfortunately, the directions we had to the place we were staying were not as clear as they could have been, and as a result we drove around quite a bit before finally locating it. Even though we arrived fairly late, the Brigantine nuns that ran the place we stayed fixed us dinner. Once again, as with all of these walled cities, Assisi is located high up on a hill.
Monday, March 7, 2005
The place we stayed in Assisi was again right outside of the wall of the city, and very near to a porta (entrance through the wall) into the city. Assisi is of course well known for the famous Saint Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was born here, and is buried in the huge church named in his honor. While we did tour this huge church (The Basilica of San Francisco), we were not allowed to take photos inside. In fact there was a policeman inside letting everyone know just that. Lawrence did manage a couple of photos in the lower level of the church where St. Francis is buried though. The Basilica was the most dominant building in the city and could be seen for miles when approaching the city.
While we were treated very well at all of the places we stayed, the nuns here were particularly friendly, and the accommodations were among the nicest of our trip. Thanks once again to Sr. Ann's good planning.
We had beautiful weather while in Assisi, and as usual we did a lot of walking around sightseeing shopping, and making a couple of purchases.
After spending several hours touring Assisi, we returned to our van to head back to Rome where we would spend the night. We did make a stop in the city of Santa Maria degli Angeli which is located just below Assisi. Here we toured their Basilica.
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
After spending the night at the Generalate in Rome, we headed south toward the Amalfi coast. We got into a bit of a traffic jam on the outskirts of Naples, but continued on until we reached Pompeii.
Pompeii is a fascinating place, and much larger than I had realized. We hired a guide that took us around Pompeii for a couple of hours, and then did more exploring on our own. There is a lot to see here, and while the city is mostly in various states of ruin, much of it is preserved just as it was nearly 2,000 years ago in (as I recall) 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius buried it.
While a great deal of the city has been excavated, there is much that is still buried and being slowly dug out. Among the interesting places here, is the oldest known and best preserved Colosseum. While it is not as large as the one in Rome, it is actually much older.
Also, many of the homes in Pompeii had wall paintings that are clearly visible.
Most of the artifacts from the city have been placed in museums, but there are hundreds of urns, and a few bodies that are still here. The bodies themselves had decomposed, but they left cavities (and of course the bones) that the excavators filled with plaster that accurately showed the outline of the body and their body position at the time of their death.
After spending many hours in Pompeii, we continued on to the Amalfi coast and our hotel there. From Pompeii we had to cross a mountain range the other side of which the mountains descended down into the sea. This was the Amalfi coast and all the cities along this coast are built on the sides of this mountain range.
We arrived at our hotel (The Hotel Bellevue) late in the afternoon, and after checking in and bringing our luggage to our rooms, we decided we should start thinking about where we would eat. The owner of the hotel suggest a restaurant in the city of Amalfi a few miles down the road. As usual, parking would be a problem, so the hotel owner volunteered to give us a ride to Amalfi, and pick us up when we were ready to return. This sounded like a great idea, and we took him up on the offer.
We did a little exploring in Amalfi, and then had supper at the il Chiostro restaurant that he had recommended. While there, the restaurant gave each of the ladies some mimosa flowers that come from the mimosa tree that begins to flower around this time of year. It is a tradition in Italy that ladies be given mimosa flowers on this day, and the women on our trip had let us know they expected us guys to fulfill our obligation in this matter. Luckily for us, the restaurant provided them for us so the ladies got their mimosa flowers.
After supper, the people at the restaurant called the hotel for us, and we were picked up as promised. Back at the hotel, the ladies spent some time playing cards, while Lawrence and I spent some time looking over some of the guide books we had purchased.
Wednesday, March 9, 2005
I should mention a bit about our hotel. While it was a fairly small hotel as most were here, it was very nice and very modern. When leaving your room and removing the key from it's place holder near the door, there was a short delay before all the lights in the room (and heater) turned off automatically. The floors were all a very decorative ceramic tile, and everything was very clean. In addition to this, each of our rooms had balconies that had an unincumbered view of the sea. It was once again a very good choice for accommodations.
Today after breakfast at our hotel, we decided to explore more of the Amalfi coast, and perhaps go over to Sorrento where we could catch a ferry to the Isle of Capri. While we did go to Sorrento, we couldn't find a place to park anywhere near the ferry, so we did not make it to Capri. However, we did do much exploring along the Amalfi coast.
Among the cities we visited were Positano and Ravello. In Positano, Alice found a very nice dress which she purchased, and Beasy found another jacket in the same shop. While we did find a place to park in Positano, we had to pay to park and it was very expensive.
In Ravello, we (Beasy and I) found some very nice dishes in a ceramics shop which we purchased and had shipped back home.
The entire Amalfi coast is beautiful. I would have to say it was one of the highlights of our trip. I should mention something about the roads and driving on the Amalfi coast. Since the towns are all built on the side of a mountain, the roads too were built on the side of a mountain. The roads here (as in many places in Italy) are not very wide. While there are some wider places in some of the roads, many places resemble an alley in their size, and these are 2 way streets with parking on one side. These roads follow the contour of the mountains, and therefore very often have very sharp corners. I was amazed to see tour buses on these roads. I commented that while I don't know what these bus drivers got paid, it wasn't enough. Often you would see them making some of these turns and only have a couple of inches to spare from the face of the cliff. Also, because of how narrow most of the roads were, there was barely room (and sometimes no room) for the on coming traffic to pass.
This evening, we decided to have dinner at our hotel which was prepared by the owner and his married son. We did made the mistake of just telling them we would be eating in. Since he was preparing one dinner for all of us, there was no menu to choose from and we didn't think to ask what it would cost. While it was a very nice supper including homemade soup with vegetables from his garden before the main course, we found out the next morning when we checked out that it cost us more than 150 Euros (nearly $200 US dollars) for the six of us!
Thursday, March 10, 2005
After having breakfast at the hotel and checking out, we did a bit more exploring of the Amalfi coast before heading back to Rome.
We had a nice supper with the nuns at the Generalate.
Friday, March 11, 2005
This morning Beasy woke up not feeling well, and had a fever. She decided she would stay at the Generalate today and rest.
Meanwhile, the rest of us met up with Fr. Jason, a priest who happens to be Lawrence's nephew and who also happens to be living in Rome. Fr. Jason would be our guide today as we visited St. Peter's Basilica and Vatican City.
Our group, minus Beasy, first headed to the Vatican Museum. There was a very long line (about 2 city blocks) waiting to enter the museum, but it moved rather quickly, and really wasn't as bad as it sounds. The Vatican Museum is huge and in addition to the many beautiful paintings and statuary, the interior of the building itself was amazing. The museum tour also included a visit to the Cistine Chapel. While we could take photos in the museum, we were not allowed to take photos in the Cistine Chapel. If anyone reading this finds themselves in Rome, this is certainly a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
After finishing at the museum, had a bit of Pizza at a small shop near the Vatican, and some of the group purchased Rosaries at very reasonable prices at another shop. We then headed over to St. Peter's square and spent a little time just taking it all in and seeing the windows where the Pope lives. Note: this was just after Pope John Paul II had returned from the hospital for the last time, and a few days before his death.
We had reservations for the Scavi Tour, and as the assigned time neared, we headed over to the Arch Of The Bells to the left of the steps to St. Peter's Basilica. There we encountered two Swiss Guards that stopped us and asked our business there. We showed our reservation for the Scavi tour and they allowed us to pass. It also helps if you have a priest with you as they are treated with great respect here.
After going through the arch, we confirmed our reservations at the Scavi office, and after a few minutes, our priest tour guide met us. These tours are for small groups and I understand are hard to get tickets for unless you reserve them well in advance. In addition, you can select a tour to be given in your native language. Once again we have Sr. Ann to thank for getting us our tickets.
The Scavi tour takes you far beneath St. Peter's where excavations have uncovered many tombs including the final resting place of St. Peter himself. These tombs are not just holes in the wall, they are actual buildings with fairly large rooms. These buildings are arraigned on streets just as if they were a city. No photos allowed down here though. Toward the end of the tour they took us "up" to the area just beneath the floor of the Basilica where the tombs of many of the Pope's are located. This area is nearly all marble with the marble tombs of the Pope's distributed around the outside. It was another very interesting and worth while tour.
After the Scavi Tour, we went into the Basilica itself where we met up with Sr. Ann and Beasy who was feeling a little better and didn't want to miss seeing St. Peter's Basilica. Of course this place was amazing. First off, it was huge. More than that it was beautiful and most everything was bigger than life. Huge statues and paintings, and of course the famous canopy and pillars designed by Bernini over the main altar. This is of course a must see when in Rome.
After spending some time at the Basilica, we took a local train back to the Generalate. This evening our group, with a couple of extras, decided to go to downtown Rome for supper.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Today we decided to take a train up to Orvieto. We all headed down to the Termini transportation hub in Rome where we caught our train to Orvieto. After arriving in Orvieto, we went across the street from the train station and got on the tram that took us up the hill and into Orvieto. From there we got on a bus that took us into the center of town.
Orvieto is another walled city. While all of the walled cities have some similarity, they are all actually very unique unto themselves. Unfortunately, our day in Orvieto was very windy. We did manage a couple of purchases while here, and did explore the city though.
We of course stopped in at the friendly local gelato shop for a snack while here and ate lunch at a unique little place. We also found an unusually large shop that sold only Armani designer clothing and was advertising 50% off. However, even with the discount, everything was still very expensive particularly when you considered the exchange rate. No purchases in that shop.
Upon finishing our exploration of Orvieto, we traveled back to Rome the same way we had come.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Today I woke up not feeling well and as a result stayed home while the others did more exploring of Rome. We all attended church at the chapel in the Generalate however.
Among the things they did today were to go to St. Peter's Square to view the Pope waving out his window and taking a double decker bus tour of the city. As it turned out, this was one of the Pope's last appearances before his death.
Later that evening, one of the Sisters at the Generalate took us all (I went too) on a night tour of Rome. The tour finished with (of course) a stop at a Gelateria where Lawrence treated us all to a gelato.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Once again I stayed home while the others did more exploration of Rome. Among the things they did today was to visit the Colosseum and some of the ruins of the Roman Empire.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Time to head for home. Sr. Ann took us to the Rome airport for our morning flight to Amsterdam. We changed planes in Amsterdam for our return flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul.
After arriving in Minnesota, we had an uneventful trip through customs and said our good-byes to our fellow travelers from North Dakota. After a long lay over, they boarded a plane to Bismarck.
It was a great trip and I know we all enjoyed it very much and couldn't have asked for better traveling companions. However, it is always nice be home once again.
One note for those thinking about traveling to Italy. Language was not a problem. Most people we met spoke at least some English, and most of those spoke very good English. The few times we needed Italian, Sr. Ann acted as our interpreter.