Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Basilica of San Francesco

Walking through Assisi

One of the many sights as we walked the streets of Assisi


The medieval town of Assisi, a historical and spiritual wonder. Taken from the square in front of the Basilica

The last few days

The stop in Perugia was not planned but turned out to be a real treat. We had plans to go to Assisi but did not have a room for the night. Both Linda and Ana had tried to get rooms but never received replies to their emails. Noah and I looked at the map and decided Perugia was a slightly larger town and near enough to be a good stop.
After driving all day through a valley with castles and fortresses on nearly every hill we passed, we arrived in town after dark. In searching for a hotel,we discovered the city center in part of the old medieval town. This part of town is still a working town, not a tourist sight or museum, it was quite a find. Before we found a room we decided to spend some time there the next morning before going to Assisi.
The walls and battlements of the ancient city now house shops and business necessary for everyday life. We also found ourselves driving on very narrow streets, at times wondering if we would need to pull in the mirrors on the Mini Cooper to get through. In addition to the narrowness they were steep. Noah made it look easy and didn't get a scratch on the Mini.
After walking and driving the hills, we headed for our next destination, Assisi. As we approached the town, still about 10 miles out, we could see it on the slope to our left. From that distance it looked like a set for a movie about medieval times.
Getting closer it was exactly what it had looked like from a distance. The walls and buildings are still much as they were centuries ago. We drove around the town to parking above. Incorporated in the parking garage are Roman walls from the ninth and tenth centuries.
Walking down into town is a real walk back in time. The town looks much like it did when Francis walked the street in the late twelfth century. Electricity has been added and cars make their way between the buildings, still it feels ancient.
We found a great cafe for lunch then headed on down to the Basilica of San Francesco. This too is a working town, so normal modern life is juxtaposed to the arched stone walls. Narrow stairways make passage possible off the streets to the buildings above or below. We passed at least three churches all still holding regular services. One was built on the sight where St. Francis lived his adult life.
I couldn't help but feel the presence of San Francesco. A man who cared deeply for and was connected to the earth and all it's living creatures. A man who is still remembered today, nearly eight hundred years after his death, as a peace figure.
Francis was a warrior who decided peace was the only acceptable choice in all affairs, civil, social and political. He lived and taught peace as a spiritually connected lifestyle. Today the world peace march ends at the Basilica that bears his name.
Assisi was another of those wonderful surprises on this trip. I hope to make a pilgrimage back for study and reflection someday.
As we left I kept looking back. I don't know what I was looking for but I couldn't stop. I didn't start focusing on our drive to Roma until Assisi was out of sight.
Roma, Rome we say, is all I expected. Every where we looked was a new and wonderful sight. Buildings, sculptures, castles, fountains and bridges each a work of art. In two days we didn't see much but much more than this post can hold.
The old ruins around the Coliseum are absolutely incredible. As we walked the Palatine hills we discovered more and each discovery was more magnificent than the last. We wandered until we knew it was time to close the sight for the day as we kept finding new old stuff. We wondered if a Roman solder on horse back would come looking for us and tell us to leave, but instead someone came through blowing a whistle and telling us the shortest way out.
A day at the Vatican is an overdose of visual art. The Basilica of San Pietro is not only huge, but every part of every wall, ceiling, and floor is a visual smorgasbord. Columns six feet wide of solid marble surround the square that fronts the building. Speaking of marble, it is everywhere steps, streets, curbs to say nothing of every part of each structure.
Moving into the Museum and the Sistine Chapel was more of the same. The paintings and tapestries depict scenes of all parts of Catholic faith. Many are violent, but many also are inspiring for any faith and all are beautifully presented.
I thought about the Catholic faith as I walked and looked. It is easy to point out all of the terrible things the church has done in the name of God. But, I also realize it is the major conduit through which the teachings and stories of Jesus have come to us. Those teachings have influenced the world for over two thousand years. Granted often it has sometimes been used as a negative influence, but there also are the teachings of love. St. Francis reminds us of the wonderful teachings that have come to us through this conduit. For those teachings and other spiritual works I'm thankful.
Just as we had throughout this trip,we ate wonderful Italian cuisine and drank terrific wines. After three nights in Rome we had three uneventful flights home. Uneventful does not mean easy, that many hours on a plane is hard under any circumstance but nothing unexpected happened on our way home.
We have more to post but jet lag has caught up with us again so will write more later.

fun shots of Rome

I had to get these lemons with the Coliseum in the back ground. The wall below the lemon trees is part of the Roman ruins.

Rome and sharing the camera

I think I get credit for this shot. Ana took several from here but I waited until the evening light to get this one. We were having a lot of fun shooting different interpretations of the same image.

We all took shots from different angles and using different light. I think Noah took this shot of Augusta's summer home. Ana was also shooting a lot and she may deserve the credit. I'm sure it isn't one of Linda's or mine.

Rome Coliseum

Inside the Coliseum. I didn't realize how much brick the Romans used, but it was in all the ruins we saw along with stone and morter.

One of the Halls in the Vatican Museum

We walked through this hall on our way to the
Sistine Chapel. We were amazed at the number of paintings on the walls and ceiling. There were numerous halls like this one. Sculptures tapestries lined them all.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

We embarked on the ferry leaving Olbia, Sardegna for Livorno on mainland Italy. The seas were calm and the ship was like a cruise ship. There were several levels for car space and three others that had cabins, sleeper chairs and large open areas with tables, where people congregated to eat, drink, converse, watch TV and each other. There is no smoking in any building in Italy inspite of the amount of smoking that people seem to do. There was a large part of the top deck that was open and lots of people and their dogs congregated there. There was smoking allowed outside. Yes, dogs. It was amazing to see the number of people traveling with their dogs who just walked along with them throughout the ship, including laying at their feet in the lunchroom. There were no canine conflicts and people did a good job of cleaning up solids. The ferry ride was about 7 hours long and we cruised north following the coast of Corsica. It is a long island with snowcapped mountains with various sized communities interspersed along the coastline. We crossed paths with several other cargo and cruise ships or ferries as we journeyed north. The mainland wasn’t visible until we got closer to our destination.
We drove off the ferry and onto the autostrada towards Pisa. Noah has a GPS and it was a very valuable tool to help us get to where we were going without too many trips to Circleville. As we drove down a beautiful tree lined road, we noticed some pink and green umbrellas dotting the landscape. Under the umbrellas were women dressed in very short skirts, long boots with high heels, fishnet stockings and form fitting sweaters. As we drove by one woman, we noticed her conversing with a gentleman in a car that had stopped. To ask directions, no doubt. Just a little further down the road was an empty chair with an umbrella leaning against it. A friendly country we decided.
By the time we arrived in Pisa, it was pouring rain. The tower is still leaning. The massive marble structure is an architectural feat. It is surrounded by other massive marble churches and buildings with sculpted details. It was dark, pouring rain and too late, to get the tours, so we took a couple of pictures and headed off to find our hotel in Bologna. It was an elegant room with a small balcony. We got winter rates so it was quite the deal. It was just a sleeping spot as we were on to Venice early the next morning.
I started this post yesterday while riding in the car but quit as the countryside became more interesting than the writing.
This will be just a few notes on the last couple of days as we’ll be visiting Perugia and Assisi today and then to Rome.
Venice was an incredible experience. It was everything we expected and more…more beautiful, old, filled with magnificent buildings adorned with paintings, mosaics and statues, filled with people and expensive. We had been wandering the city and thought we’d stop for a glass of wine in San Marco piazza. It would have been 4.80 euro for each of us just to sit at a table. We decided to keep walking, buy a bottle of wine for 4 euro and go back to the room and rest. Finding a dinner reservation for New Year’s Eve was a challenge. We had checked some while we were walking and then Ana and I set out on a mission and combed the area where we were, braved some dark alleys and bridges over less than favorably aromatic canals, but found the perfect place, just next to the Opera house where we enjoyed a gourmet dinner before joining the throngs of people at San Marco Piazza. There was a band, with a big band type composition playing Latin flavored jazz rhythmically setting the mood for the night. The crowd moved towards the canal front for the fireworks and it was like being part of an amoeba that was moving, more as one than individual bodies. The fireworks display was one of the best I’ve ever seen, a couple of men had champagne bottles which they popped at midnight and one of them offered us cups and shared a toast to the new year. They spoke a little English and we made New Year’s wishes in Italian. The music with the fireworks started out with opera and then went to mostly American music, which was a surprise to us. A most memorable New Year’s Eve to say the least.
We took the long vaporetti ride back to the parking garage via the Grand Canal. Most of the city was closed for the holiday. The Grand Canal is truly that, with gondolas cruising the canals, amazing building, churches and people watching. We all commented that we saw more fur coats in that 24 hours than perhaps in our lifetimes. Our next destination was Assisi and Noah plotted a course for us using his GPS. We decided to stop just before there in a town called Perugia. The drive through the countryside was amazing. We went along east side from Venice to Ravenna where we had lunch at an Indian restaurant. It was a real taste change from all of the Italian food we had been enjoying.
From Ravenna we drove inland through amazing farmland, rolling hills and past structures that we are sure we roadhouses in medieval times. Looking out over the landscape there would be higher points that often had a castle, church or fortress like structure on top. Noah and Ernie were speculating that the valley we drove through had probably been strategic in battles and/or travel for troops back in the day.
We arrived in Perugia and found that there is a more modern city below but that the upper part of the city is truly medieval. We were looking for a hotel and drove through some “streets”, cobblestone and lined with buildings made of huge block that felt more like a tunnel. There were times that we were not sure that the kids MiniCooper would fit through the opening!
We finally found a stop for the night and are going back to explore the old part of Perugia before moving on to Assisi and then to Rome tonight.
Don’t know how much more we’ll have time to post before we leave on Friday…