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Late Night in Roma

Via Della Concilazione

Via Della Concilazione

St Peter's

St Peter’s

The wall around St Peters Square

The Wall Around St Peters Square

The front and main entrance to the church at Santa Brigida faces the square of the Piazza Farnese. Looking out from Santa Brigida to the right on the piazza is the Farnese Palazzo, now the French Embassy.  There is a guard house for the armed soldiers, who carry angry looking machine guns.  A utility vehicle painted in camouflage  looks well equipped with anything needed in a crisis.   Armed guards constantly patrol the grounds of the embassy. Two armed soldiers are posted at the vehicle at all times. The piazza is small and quiet with no markets set up during the day and no hawkers shooting off the plastic rockets that glow like firecrackers when propelled into the night sky. During the day tourists sit on the long marble bench in front of the embassy to rest.

Our room at the convent faced the small cobbled side street and as we looked out our tall narrow window of the room we could see the embassy to the left and a small bar in the next block to the right.  We could hear people walking and talking in the street below despite the fact we were up four floors from the ground level of the street.  Sound travels. The serenading began at 1am.  A group of boys, either drunk or just happy sat on the steps of the building across from the convent and sang loudly and with gusto until 3 AM.  Evidently the guards at the embassy like singing and are trained to stay at their posts and keep a look out, never interfering unless there is a disturbance in the piazza or a run on the building. They are not diverted to singing groups on the side street. The side street is off limits. It’s a good thing we got sleep on the flight over.

The next morning broke clear, sunny and very warm. We went to the breakfast room and were greeted by a nun who was serving two priests an early breakfast. We had the choice of frutta, yoghurt, cereali, salami, fromaggio, caffe e spramuta d’ rancia. (I am practicing my Italian) We decided to walk early in the day, while it was cooler, to the Vatican and I am so glad we did. Staying at the convent is so convenient, despite the outdoor noises, because you can walk to all the main attractions. We walked to the Tiber River and crossing a different bridge than yesterday passed Castel Sant’ Angelo and walked on to St Peter’s Square, which is really round.  At this early hour there were few tourists so we could get some good pictures without heads or bodies in the way. The shops and cafes along Via Della Conciliazione were open at this hour too.  The street cleaners were out with witches brooms sweeping away the last bits of dirt on the sidewalks.  The street cleaning machines started up right after the serenading died down. Hey, maybe the singers ARE the street cleaning machine operators!  The Italians clean the streets early every morning with the same gusto as the singers! Cleaning starts in around 4AM.  We walked on to the square and were greeted by hawkers who could get us in the Vatican, no line. I don’t think so.  I know there is always a long line. There is a great deal of construction going on near the Vatican now so there are many detours to get around the  square and up to the museum. When we finally arrived at the museum that entrance was closed off so we retraced our steps back to St Peters Square. When we got there, there were  hundreds of people winding in a line to get into the Vatican.  We passed around the wrought iron fence designating we were now in Vatican City, a country all it’s own.  We stopped to look at the wares of a man selling Vatican novelties.  He told us he was the only merchant allowed to sell inside Vatican City, on church and state property. His family had sold here from 1945 and the license was passed down through the generations.  He was very nice and telling the truth.  We circled St Peters and never saw another vender inside the fencing.  We went back to him and bought rosaries and tiny, tiny bottles of holy water.  He gave us St Francis medals to wear.  He told us business would not be good today since the crowd was expected to be over 200,000 for the dedications of the Confraternity.  There were a bazillion metal chairs set in the square and that is where the lines were winding as they waited to get into the Vatican.  We hi-tailed out of there before the crowds became worse and stopped at more shops along the way.  I was looking for a Nativity scene.  I have a large set with many shepherds, cows and donkeys and of course the Holy Family.  I wanted a little itsy bitsy one and found it.  Made of hand carved wood it is Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus about one inch tall, all in one tiny piece. Perfetto!  We also bought post cards and posted them in the Vatican City post office.  We then found the stop for the red open air double decker buses, thanks to two Italian girls who overheard us talking and gave us directions. We decided to take a tour of the city.  It was beginning to get HOT so we bought gelato and boarded the bus, climbing to the top.  It is a good way to rest and get a suntan at the same time. After the bus tour we walked back to the Convent passing large groups of people dressed in colorful robes and carrying large banners while praying and walking to the Vatican.  These were the Confraternities.  They were being honored with a mass with the Holy Papa.  Time for a nap to rest up for the evening passegiatta!

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

From the Tour Bus in Roma

From the Tour Bus in Roma


My Take on Magnificent Corpses

Duomo Florence Italy

Duomo Florence Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

I find myself drawn to historical books (and some not so historical) about saints, pilgrimages, the Medici clan, Leonardo da Vinci and the Catholic Church. All throughout Italy there are beautiful small churches, grand duomos, magnificent basilicas, filled with beautiful earth shattering art and sculptures. When I was in high school I had to take an art appreciation class as a freshman and I hated it. Pictures in a book. However, when I went to Italy and saw the real McCoy I wanted to know more.  Who were the painters, the sculptors, the saints?  What did it all mean? In the churches I had known,  there might be a small cross, maybe a statue of Mary, or stained glass windows of Jesus as a shepherd with baby lambs. Church buildings looked to be a gymnasium. You get the picture. The Italian church soared into an azure sky, the pink marble glistened in the sun, the saints peered down at you.  In Italy the fresco scenes were filled with gnashing of bodies or cherub angels floating across an Italian landscape.  Sometimes both in the same scene. The detail and brilliance of color and depth in the scenes of people in deep distress or in a trance beyond words was captivating. There were armored men going on crusade urging their followers forward. A woman standing steadfast while  holding  the bloody head of a man in her gnarly strong hand.  The  man  triumphant over the defeated slain dragon. The pictures became real.  The pictures told stories.  You didn’t even have to know the story, you got the message. No matter what language you spoke, words weren’t necessary.  The frescoes and paintings said it all. Passion.  Faith.

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

The Duomo, Milan, Italy

And I wanted to know more about those bones.  Those pieces of bodies and what they were there for.  I think the first relic (term for holy bits and pieces of people or their clothing) I remember and payed any attention to, was inside a tiny glass window lit up in an alcove in a small exit way leaving a church. It was a hand.  I thought well that is odd and went up closer to take a better look.  It was a real shriveled up cut off hand.  I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked around me. Do you act like you didn’t see it?  Ho hum that’s nice. Do you drop to your knees and pray?  Why was that there? I was taken back.  I had to know more. So I decided to read up on it. Hence, I started reading that………

During the early years of the church, the body parts of holy people were highly prized and sought after for their healing powers, and brought fame and followers to any church that presented these body parts or even the clothing these people wore. Remember the man touching Jesus’  clothing and being healed?  So rich patrons and crusaders scoured the holy lands and returned with their riches to put them on display in their local churches.  Or perhaps a holy person died and was buried on the spot. Believers came to this site to pray.  A church was built. More people came.   The believing flock became the first tourists.  In those days the only reason to leave home was to go to war or go on pilgrimage.  Sometimes a penance of traveling to a particular holy place to pray, repent and receive forgiveness was given to the sinner. The penitent had a lot of time along the way to think things over.  The road was not easy. Some would be killed along the way and would never return to their homeland. The Holy Land was too far for most.  Rome was a good choice, centrally located, and the Way of St James or the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain was best for others. Most of the people could not read or write.  Story telling frescoes, awe inspiring churches rising to the heavens to meet God and the bodies of saints brought the people to the churches. My adventures to following the saints in books began with………

Sant Bartholomew

Sant Bartholomew

A Stolen Tongue by Sheri Holman, documents the travels and travails through the journals of Father Felix Fabri to find his spiritual mate Saint Katherine of Alexandria. Her  broken body parts are scattered in several churches and have gone missing.  He carries her dried up tongue in a pouch around his neck. He needs to find her. Need I say more?  Who would not want to know what happens along his path? I was hooked.

Over the years I have read  The Holy Feast and Holy Fast, Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women by Caroline Walker BynumHoly Holidays; the Catholic Origins of Celebration by Greg Tobin,  Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?: The Catholic Origin to Just About Anything by Michael P. Foley, Catholicism for Dummies by John Trigilio and Kenneth BrighentiThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and just about every book written about the Way of St James or El Camino de Santiago. I have studied the saints……. and their

Magnificent Corpses. This book written by Anneli Rufus is a travel book with a difference.  It encourages you to seek unheard of places contemplating on life and relics of life and what we regard as holy.  Anneli focuses not only on the saints, but on  the people who come to see them. She follows fifteen of the saints through Italy.  So what does this all mean?  If you build it and believe it,  they will come.  And we do. Abundantly.

Church, Milan, Italy

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy

Books and the Mafia

Cortona Italy

Cortona Italy

I think this is a good place to talk about the book reading prep  I have done for the trip to Italy. Not just this time, but over the years. I love to read and cook, except by now you know I’ve been doing the Nutrisystem thing since January 1st, I have that day etched in my mind,  so I just read the cookbooks for now.  I’ m saving up the eating part for Italy.  My book choices are varied because I like history and mysteries too and of course I have to read the books that talk about people who have actually moved to Italy.  There are lots of books to pick from, but these are the books that stuck in my mind. Years ago I read  Under the Tuscan Sun, At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes, after I saw the movie.  I knew then and there I would go to Italy. I was enthralled by someone who could find a villa, fix it up, live amongst the land and people.  Who hasn’t seen that movie or read the book? Since reading that book I have been to Italy several times and visited Cortona, where Frances Mays lives.

The Church Below Cortona

The Church Below Cortona

Italians really do have their own time. Italian time…… slow to slower, to never get on with it.  Nothing is ever easy.  It gets done when it gets done. It would take a lot for me to get used to that as an everyday occurrence. Frances has written several more books about her  stay In Italy, learning to cook, growing her own food, keeping a slower pace, and I have read them all.  Then she wrote about the pool incident.  The village wanted to place a public pool at the end of the dead end lane where Frances lives.  She already had people and bus traffic from tourists who parade by her home. She thought it would just add to the congestion. She tells stories of how she can hear what the tourists are saying about her as they stand by the gate and she sits in one of her rooms. Anyway, she wasn’t crazy about the pool idea and neither were her Italian neighbors.  So she did the American thing and put together a petition, opposing the pool, to present to town hall.  Her Italian neighbors would not sign it. She couldn’t really understand this and decided it was because they did not understand the idea of a petition.  Soon after, while picking up the stuffed animals and other souvenirs left by tourists at her gate, she picked up an oblong shaped grey thingy, not really paying too much attention to it.  When she looked at it more closely she realized it was a hand grenade, and froze in her tracks, afraid to move any further.  Attached was a note telling her to lay off with the petition stuff.  The  police were called for a bomb threat.  The bomb disposal / explosive ordinance team arrived.  The grenade was real but inactive. There was a follow up investigation.  The police drew no conclusions to who may have placed it. Finally, one brave neighbor explained  to Frances, there were certain people you did not cross when they wanted to do something or approved of something. The Mafia.  It was her first realization that they exist and still play a part in Italian society. I began to re-think that I actually wanted to move  to Italy, because I usually say what I think and would have to pick up grenades everyday.



The Church in Cortona

The Church in Cortona

More of My Favorite Steps

More of My Favorite Steps

I moved on to Marlena de Blasi and started with her book 1000 days in Venice, an Unexpected Romance. Marlena, is my kind of girl, a chef, journalist and food critic.  She goes to Venice to work on a cookbook and falls in love with an Italian banker.  Through her books you discover the Italian life from Venice to Tuscany to Orvieto. You also discover life with an Italian husband.  Soon after they marry,  she moves to Venice and  he quits his job at the bank.  Or maybe he retires, they can retire early there, but anyway, from then on they rely on her book income and his retirement savings.  As her books have progressed from their move from Venice to Tuscany to Orvieto, I have felt an edginess develop after the writings of the early book.  In the early days there were romantic candlelit perfumed baths  taken together, regularly.  They enjoyed  long walks, holding hands, looking deep into each others eyes.

Now it is, “Marlena, you are spending so much money and you need to get away for a few weeks to write?”

“What, who buys all the fancy clothes? I don’t see your pay going for them!”

“Away from me?  Who will cook for me?  I have spent two years creating the perfect palazzo for you and you are going off to write?  You spend the money on silk furnishings and pillows!”

She  now spends more time with women.  Her books have really ran the gamut and I have enjoyed them. And she writes about the Mafia.  There it is.  How they came to be, the influence they still have. Now I have learned another thing.  I would not like being married to an Italian man. I have never taken a perfumed candlelit bath with anyone, and I would not like to take care of a husband as I would a child.  I would love to see my husband’s face if I suggested that to him, both the bath idea and the supervision! Another reason to love Italy, you realize there are different ways of doing things. When in Rome do as the Romans do. I find it fascinating. I hope this has given you an idea  for some great reads. As usual I have  typed on and on and never got to the cookbooks or mysteries, so I will leave that for my next post. Grazie!

All Roads Lead to Rome

All Roads Lead to Rome

Charleston For Easter

Some of the window treatments and planters in Charleston

The Windows of Charleston


This post is a break of sorts from the Italian vacation prep.  Well sort of. My husband and I just returned from Charleston, one of the greatest cities in the United States.  It has everything……  cozy neighborhoods, fantastic architecture, history, cobblestone and cannonball streets, terrific shopping, sea breezes, did I mention the food?  Fabulous!  We spent the weekend walking, walking and more walking the neighborhoods, which I never tire of.  I love the vibrant colors on the homes, one of my favorites is the tangerine color of these shutters.  Or maybe the cameo pink of the skinny house. Or maybe the pigeon white of the antebellum. I really can’t decide which one I like best!  Temperature in the seventies, the azaleas were in bloom, the fountains gurgling.  Around every corner is a hidden garden, certainly one on the side of the Charleston House.  We peek through the wrought iron gates.  The flower boxes are overflowing at the windows. The churches, especially St Michaels and St Phillips were decked out in fine Easter greenery and floral arrangements were going up on the doors, along the pews and at the altar on Saturday.   The ladies stroll Market Street in Easter parade outfits wearing beautiful flowing dresses, pastel hats and gloves. It’s been a while since I saw women so dressed up. Reminded me that I do own a fancy hat!DSCN0021DSCN0088DSCN0059DSCN0026DSCN0064DSCN0066DSCN0050

I also had a method to my madness. I was breaking in a new camera.  I wanted to make sure I could take the shots I wanted without fiddling with the camera for ten minutes.  I like to shoot and go.  My current Canon camera has an eye problem.  The shutter won’t shut all the way or it catches sometimes and won’t close at all.  So I opted for a Nikon with lots of buttons, settings and zooooooom.  I have my friend Katy from PraguebyKaty to thank for even thinking about getting a different camera.  She takes wonderful pictures. She takes unusual shots and great videos too.  Who knew a camera could have twenty scene descriptions alone? I know indoor and outdoor, ha!  This camera has a close-up, food, snow, beach, fireworks, museum, dusk/dawn, sunset, party/ indoor, panorama and pet portrait, to name a few.  For the first hour or two I had the camera on auto select. It kept telling me I needed the flash, but it seemed really sunny out to me. So I snapped away with the flash on.  The pictures looked washed out.  Then I switched to the scene mode.  Much better! I didn’t get the really flashy camera, with different lenses and such.  Too much to learn before I leave for Italy.  I’ll keep playing with this one until I get it right. Here are more of the pictures I took in Charleston.DSCN0073DSCN0102DSCN0032

There are plenty of great restaurants here.  This time we tried out some that were new to us and we were not disappointed.  Now I must add here that I have been on Nutrisystem since January 1st and eating out in Charleston was  a delight I had been saving up for. I love low country food.  Shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, mustard roasted brussels sprouts. The first place we went to was The Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe.  A hole in the wall place,  that could easily be passed by. The locals eat here, need I say more?  We just wanted a no fuss lunch and to eat outside in the nice weather.  The place was packed both indoors and out.  The Dixie Burger is a hamburger with fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese.  AND homemade pickles on the side.  Awesome!  The other items that caught my eye were the tomato pie and the bacon pecan pie.  I didn’t try those, but I wanted to.  Oh and they serve Nehi Orange in the bottle.  Can’t remember the last time I had a Nehi.  I was in heaven!DSCN0009DSCN0008

Going to Charleston was also a chance to  break in shoes.  The shoes I am thinking about taking to Italy.  I wanted to get some mileage on those shoes.  Would they be comfortable after walking three to six hours? I test all shoes before I pack them in the suitcase. Many hours, many miles.  It will save me heartache and foot ache later. My favorite shoe shop is the Charleston Shoe Company.  They specialize in the cobblestone to cocktail shoe. The shoes are very stylish, come in a bazillion colors and styles and are very comfortable. They are machine washable!!!!! I am showing some of my favorites here that I am narrowing down for the trip.  I really am leaning toward the red to wear as my dress up shoes.  Maybe I will see the Pope and we can compare shoes!DSCN0127DSCN0100DSCN0126

Easter or Any Time in Italy

The Duomo in Florence Italy

The Duomo in Florence Italy

Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 163

Easter……..I thought I would share some pictures with you. It has been cold in the south the entire month of March to me. No rabbits, no eggs, no peeps. The birds are hardly looking for a mate. Or have they found their mate and are trying to stay warm? This is why I love Italy.  On every corner you are reminded of God, of something bigger than you.  In Rome there are nuns and priests everywhere all the time.  There are Cardinals in their bright red robes and some in magenta huddling in groups to discuss who knows what.  There are masses of people in the churches or waiting in line to get into church.

Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 507The smallest church will have the most fantastic art. But, what I like are the statues, crosses, stained glass windows, icons, churches big and small, bells ringing and the small memorials on the sides of buildings and at crossroads in the countryside.  The Italians say, “God is always watching and it is a good way to remind you to choose between good and evil.”  I like to think of it as God is always watching over me.  He is everywhere in everything.  I like to be Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 534reminded.
In a very small Italian village, Montisi, just a blip on the map, my husband and I took a narrow steep paved path from the car park up the hill.  At the top was a tiny stone church perched on the cliff.  Here on the front of the church was a stone with a map of the village etched into it. In Italian it read, “you are here.”  The path took you to the church and back down making a circle.  A beginning with no end.  Have a blessed Easter!

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