The town of Assisi sits on a large hill and is quite beautiful.
On our last big excursion during our year in Slovakia, we decided to make a more conventional (at least, ostensibly) sightseeing trip on a guided tour through Italy. We traveled with a group of Slovak and Hungarian Catholics from the Roznava diocese where we lived on a Catholic sightseeing tour to many of the famous Catholic pilgrimage sights in Italy. We left in the middle of the afternoon after meeting the bus in downtown Roznava. While we knew the local priest who was leading the group, we did not know any of the other people on the bus. Also, we found that we were also younger than the rest of the tour group by an average of about 40 years. Nevertheless, we were excited to be on our first guided tour and take a break from making our own plans, dealing with our travel difficulties, arranging our own transportation, and troubleshooting the various problems that inevitably come with lots of international travel. After only about two hours on the road, the bus caught a flat tire, leaving us stranded at a Slovak gas station along the highway while it went for repairs. This left plenty of time for the tour group
Basilica of St. Francis
Sylvia standing in front of the basilica where St. Francis is buried.
members to socialize, eat, and imbibe. The Slovaks and Hungarians came well prepared for long hours on the bus, with bags full of schnitzel sandwiches meant to last without refrigeration, as well as with their own bottles of homemade liquor (mostly plum brandy) to share with one another. This seemed to be the primary social catalyst. Our first night was spent sleeping on the bus as we traveled to our first destination, Assisi. This of course, is the town made famous by St. Francis and St. Claire. It also had a special meaning for me, since my brother had recently joined a Franciscan order, making me even more interested in seeing the city. Assisi sits on a high plateau and features beautiful churches and narrow streets. Most notable are the churches dedicated to the two saints which hold their remains.
After spending the afternoon in Assisi, we traveled on to Rome, where we spent the night outside the city at a large dormitory constructed to house Catholic pilgrims on their way to Rome. There were what appeared to be several thousand other people staying at the center as well, and we quickly learned that they were headed to the same
Basilica of St. Francis
Me after visiting the basilica in Assisi, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
place we were the following day--the weekly audience with the Pope at the Vatican. The next morning we traveled into the city and then to the square in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City to see the Pope. After about two hours of waiting, the Pope arrived in his armored pope mobile. Although we were not particularly close to the steps of the basilica, we came within about 10 feet of the Pope as he drove by and could see him quite clearly. I anticipated a very short greeting and small ceremony. Instead, the audience consisted of six greetings done in six languages, both by the pope and the designated priests. After that came a homily read by the Pope in the six languages: Italian, German, English, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese. The pope also mentioned our particular tour group from Slovakia by name and said a short greeting in Slovak, which made our group VERY happy. Following the audience, we were able to tour the basilica and see the crypt where most of the popes are buried, including John Paul II.
The next day, we toured the ancient part of Rome, which included the forum and coliseum. We
Clothes of St. Francis
Several of these garments were worn by St. Francis during his life.
visited several of the most well-known churches as well; including St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran (these three along with St. Peter's comprise the four papal basilicas). I climbed the Holy Stairs
on my knees according to the tradition, and we saw the jail which supposedly housed Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome. This day was my birthday, so Sylvia and I enjoyed my birthday dinner at a nice restaurant near the Trevi Fountain
. I had linguini and clams with a nice glass of wine, so it wasn't a bad way to spend a birthday. We spent the evening sitting on the Spanish Stairs
before heading back to the bus for another overnight trip to our next destination. The next day we arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo, the home of Saint Padre Pio, a famous Capuchin monk who was famous for his stigmata as well as the supposed ability to bilocate. We were able to see Padre Pio's gravesite, as well as the new pilgrimage church they are building at the location. We traveled on to Loreto, to see the famous Basilica of the Holy House
, which contains the house which is said to be that of Mary, brought back from the
St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica in the center of Vatican city is the church at the center of Catholicism and the most prominent of the four papal basilicas.
holy land during the Crusades. It is behind the main altar and we were able to go inside. After a few hours in Loreto, we were on the road again on our way to the next stop in Rimini. Rimini is an interesting town on the east coast of Italy at the Adriatic Sea. We stayed overnight in a small seaside hotel before getting up the next morning and driving to our final stop in Venice. We parked our bus after arriving in Venice since it has no roads accessible to cars in the main part of town. Instead, people have to either walk or take a water taxi through the canals. Sylvia and I had some free time and enjoyed finding a small pizza restaurant before walking around town and looking through many of the interesting shops. We spent some more time in St. Mark's Square listening to music before taking a water taxi back to where the bus was parked. We traveled again overnight on the bus to reach Slovakia by late afternoon the next day, driving across Austria. After spending three of the six nights sleeping on the bus, we were both ready for a normal bed
Pope Benedict as he drove through the crowd before his audience.
and some rest before preparing to come back to the United States.
This will most likely be my last post for at least for a little while since I don't have any immediate travel plans. I hope you have all enjoyed hearing about the year Sylvia and I spent in Europe. We appreciate all of the nice messages and comments sent to us this year during our time abroad and we will look forward to starting our blog back up once we have another exciting place to go!
Brett and Sylvia
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