Thursday September 10, 2015 – Today Is our last day In Italy.

Today Is our last day In Italy and so, facing all day traveling tomorrow, we decided to take it easier.

The morning started with a visit to the Bargello Museum, a collection of renaissance art in a building that was both palace and jail. The art was captivating, but as attractive was the setting. The building has restored along with frescoes and ornaments, a great way to round out our trip.

After our encounter with the Santo Volto in the cathedral in Lucca, the crucifix that was miraculously completed by angels, we had to visit Santissima Anunziata which has a miraculous image of Mary. Again, the story goes that an artist, overwhelmed by painting the face of Mary, prayed for divine inspiration and went to bed, only to find the image completed when he awoke. The image is hard to see in the photos below.

In the evening we joined the New Jerusalem community for vespers and Mass. We had encountered this community in Paris. Their vespers are wonderfully chanted and the spirit among the community is palpable. A very moving end to our time away.

Tomorrow we meet the taxi to go to the airport at 4:15am.

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Wednesday – Part II

From Pistoia we got on the train toward Florence but stopped at another walled Medieval town, Prato. It was a long walk to the walls of the city and we reached the cathedral shortly before it closed. The cathedral is dedicated St. Steven Martyr (Stefano). The draw were the 15th century Filippo Lippi frescos behind the main altar. One side showed scenes of St. Stevens life and martyrdom, and the other side reflected the same scenes in the life of John the Baptist. Prato is the place where Lippi met the nun, Lucretia Buti who became his wife. The famous relic is Mary’s Belt. The legend relates the belt (or girdle) was dropped to St. Thomas the apostle as she was assumed into heaven. As Thomas had doubted the resurrection until he had proof, the belt served as proof of Mary’s Assumption. The relic came to Prato as a dowry of a young noble woman to a local nobleman. The belt is housed in a special chapel in the cathdral. The cathedral also has an exterior pulpit designed by Donatello.

Nearby was a castle started but not finished by Frederick II. This became part of the city fortifications. Now it provides views of the city.

It was a busy day. The pedometer on our phones registered 15 miles walked. We returned to Florence for a dinner that included cinghiale (wild boar).

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Wednesday September 9, 2015 – Today we decided to roll three day trips into one.

Today we decided to roll three day trips into one. We left early to take the regional train to Lucca.

Lucca is a beautiful medieval city enclosed by a renaissance wall. A renaissance wall had to take the impact of more powerful weapons, so the stone is backed by earthen walls. The benefit for Lucca is that the wall has become a walking/running/biking trail that encircles the center of Lucca. We rented bikes and enjoyed circling the wall twice, and the traffic -foot and wheel – was brisk. When we entered Lucca we came to its cathedral dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. The cathedral was closed for visitors but was open for Mass, which we attended. From the outside it is impressive, with alternating dark and light horizontal stripes and series of blind arches supported by decorative columns. The story is the architect had a contest for masons to each carve a column with the winner getting the commission for the whole church. The architect kept the columns and awarded no commission. True or not, each column is different.

Inside we were treated to a beautiful chapel at Mass (see photo) and after Mass we explored the main altar, the side altars and a free-standing marble shrine to the sacro.volto (or holy face). The legend is that Joseph of Arimathra carved a crucifix but felt incapable of accurately carving the face of Jesus. He prayed for help, went to sleep, and in the morning the face had been miraculously completed. We saw the church of St. Ferdinand which had a spectacular mural in the front. This also had an impressive della Robia image over the font. St. Michael is another impressive structure. It reflects the same striped exterior, blind arches and columns of the cathedral, even exceeding it, and haf a wonderful altar and crucifix.

We took train, retracing our steps toward Florence but stopping in Pistoia. If the name reminds you of a small handgun it is with reason. The inhabitants had a reputation for violence, against one another and outsiders. They were innovative in all sorts of weapons, and invented the pistol. Lucky we did not have this experience.

Although a walled city the walls are over so much area that you don’t get the feeling of being in a walled city. Our goal was two of the many churches there. We arrived in the afternoon to find the cathedral closed for siesta. We did find St Andrea church known for the carved pulpit portraying rather realistically the murder of the Holy Innocents. The outside was a simplified version of the striped churches we’d already seen today, but still beautiful. We doubled back and the cathedral dedicated to Ss. Zenon and James (as in Santiago). It was open by then. The prize possession is an altar piece rendered in silver (literally a ton of silver) portraying scenes from the life of St. James. It also a gorgeous crucifix
The doorway was decorated in della Robia dculpturrs, common for this area.

Our third city was Prato. Another walled, medieval city, but I will post that in part 2.

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Tuesday September 8, 2015 – We left this morning to go to Cinque Terre.

We left this morning to go to Cinque Terre, five little villages spaced along the rugged coast of the Liguria region of Northern Italy. The cities were isolated, and even had their own language, but now are linked by boat, railroad and hiking trail. It is a popular destination for tourists since the 1970’s, as we found out traveling in the swarm of visitors.

We arrived by bus to Manarola, and had to descend a considerable distance through the village to the shore. Like all the towns, Manarola is small but has a developed shoreline. The reason to visit is definitely the shore, and at each village we found swimmers, sunbathers and incredible views.

The roads between the villages are limited, so going from town to town requires taking the boat or train or hiking trail. We took the train to Riomaggiore. Although a little larger, Riomaggiore was similar, a small village and developed shoreline. Like the other towns, tourism is its life blood.

We took the boat to Monterosso, which afforded us wonderful views of the coast by sea. There were hundreds of people on the boat from all over the world, and with only a narrow access to the boat, embarking and disembarking was tedious. Monterosso was the largest so far and provided the most services. We had lunch which included seafood, pasta with pesto (which is the traditional sauce of the region), and a local white wine that tasted of apples. After lunch we walked to the shore to wade, then hiked up to a Franciscan monastery church, that provided views all the way up.

We took the train to Vernazza, which was another lovely shoreline. There was a rustic church near the water, we assumed it’s simplicity reflected leaner times before tourism. At each place we regretted not having swimsuits since the water was clear and inviting. The sun was blazing, requiring those on the beach to seek shade under beach umbrellas.

We took a train again to Spezia, the largest of the towns, to catch the bus back to Florence.

Tom was overwhelmed by the number of tourists flowing into these small towns and filling up the restaurants, beaches and bars. At the same time the coast is magnificent and a great draw to tourists.

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Monday September 7, 2015 – We started our first full day in Florence.

We started our first full day in Florence with morning prayer at the basilica of San Lorenzo. Like most major churches here there is a special door for those who wish to pray or attend Mass so that aspect is preserved in contrast to tourism. This was the parish church of the Medici family and many are buried.

We attended Mass at the Duomo, again, entering at the prayer door. This might be the only way we enter this trip because even before it opened the line to enter was down the street. This cathedral is awesome inside and out, with many colors of marble creating geometric patterns. The dome is largest brick dome in the world engineered by Brunelieschi.

We were excited to go to the Museum of San Marco. It was the monastery which was home to Fra Angelico, and his frescos are in every room and monastic cell. Like the Scrovengi chapel in Padua it is considered a masterpiece of European art. The works are familiar but it was amazing to see them in their original context.

After lunch we hiked up to an overlook of Florence, the piazzale of Michaelangelo . The hike was through a gate of the city walls and up into the surrounding mountains. From the city it is easy to forget that Florence is ringed with mountains. The view posted is panoramic. If you wish you can download to see it in its entirety.

After dinner we attended a concert in Or San Michele. The concert was held on the upper floor, amidst original statues. The windows were open that afforded great views of the city, but also admitted the noise from the lively street life below.


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Sunday September 6, 2015 – Our final destination for the day was Florence.

Sadly we left Venice early this morning, catching a vaporetto to take us to the train station. We were treated to lovely views of Venice from the canal, but we took the train to Padua first, hoping to see the Scrovengi chapel and to attend Mass at the basilica of St. Anthony of Padua. Padua was a walled Medieval city and still retains some of the character from those times, making the walk very enjoyable for us. We stopped first at the civic museum where the Scrovengi is located. Entry requires advanced tickets. Since the earliest we could get tickets were for the 1:15 PM showing, that afforded us ample time to walk the 25 minutes to the basilica for the 11:00am Mass. Along the way we were able to stop in various churches.

It was obvious when we got to the basilica because of the throngs of people making their way to Mass. Mass was nicely done, but under an hour. During Mass people where walking around the basilica, and a steady line was making its way to the saints tomb. We did as well after Mass. There also was a large crowd at the relic chapel where St. Anthony ‘s tongue is reserved. We exited the basilica making our way to our appoIntment to see the Scrovengi chapel.

We were excited to see the chapel partly because Tom hadn’t seen it but mostly because it is a masterpiece of art. It is a 14th century chapel built by Scrovengi as a family chapel, as a reparation for his father’s sin of usury. The frescos by Giotto that adorn its walls are considered one of the most important masterpieces of western art. Because of its age, importance and the fragility of the frescoes entrance is limited, with persons entering an environmentally controlled lobby before gaining entry to the chapel, and then only for 15 minutes. It was awe-inspiring to see not only the artistic merit but the theological merit as well. Afterwards we visited the galleries of Venetian paintings. Over 500 painting were given by one donor to the city in the 19th century. These are those works.

We had another two-hour ride on a high-speed train to Florence. Our hotel is near the train station making it more convenient to transport bags, although we had some pains finding it due to the confusing Florentine address system.

We enjoyed a good meal in a nearby trattoria, and took a walk enjoying Florence at night.

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Saturday September 5, 2015 – St. Mark Basilica, the main reason we are in Venice.

After breakfast we struck out for St. Mark Basilica, the main reason we are in Venice. The line was so long to get in the day before that we decided to go early to get a good place in line. We were earlier than necessary so we took time in the square and found a side entrance to the basilica for access to the chapel and Blessed Sacrament chapel, taking some time to pray.

Our effort was not in vain. We were the first in line. The basilica is magnificent and we  took our time to savor it. It is difficult to do the basilica justice in words. I can only say that the abundant gold in the mosaics, the domes and chapels are a feast for the eyes and soul. Our knowledge of the place St. Mark played in history added another layer of enjoyment . It’s treasury and museum brought back memories from our trip to Istanbul, because many items were from the Haggai Sophia, fortunately preserved when Constantinople fell to the Turks. We spent all morning exploring the many aspects of the building and left feeling grateful to experience it.

We had to go to our short list after lunch since we felt our time in Venice running out. This included the Academia (museum) and several churches. One was a Franciscan friary with a famous Titian painting of the Assumption of the Virgin. We also happened upon a church preparing for a concert, St. Rocco, and we paused to listen to their rehearsal. The Academia had galleries of masterpieces of Venetian religious art. Our luck ran out returning to our hotel and we were caught in a sudden rainstorm . The good news is that there was a café, in which to take refuge.

We rested until evening, returning to the basilica for evening Mass.

Tomorrow we will leave early for Padua, then Florence.

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