S: 2005 Italia COM Choir Sings at the Vatican
BC: How quickly things come to an end. Kind of a blur but I remember taking a shower, last item packing, a bus ride to the hotel with bagged breakfast and now the airport where we are currently sitting at gate C-28 waiting patiently to board our flight. Goodbyes are hard and we had to leave behind Tomaso and Anselmo at the security check point. It is always such a mad dash in these places and proper goodbyes are reduced to quick hugs, tears and well wishes. However, as I sat here at the gate, I was given a special goodbye in the sweet sound of my new friend, Anselmo text my cell phone, “Hi Blondie, have a good flight. I am on the train for Florence. XXX” So again come the emotional tears of goodbye; and I had just fixed my makeup! | Another Contenta Production!
FC: 2005 Italia COM Choir at the Vatican
1: Fly from Houston to Roma! | Today was a big travel day for Mom and I, but mischief was sure to ensue! | June 7 - June 8, 2005
2: Firenza (Florence):
3: June 9, 2005 - Florence ... at the Leather Shop Sergio gave Mary his cell number. We then made him our second hat victim! Not long after our late group finally made it back to the Piazza where we were shuffled off to the hotel. Anselmo lives here so he did not stay with us and he decided to put me and mom in charge of getting everyone to the restaurant – Se Me Vida in San Marco Piazza. He had recommended us eat there and had reservations set up for us! I even decided to try the cheese with honey that he had suggested. That is one of the only cheeses he can eat. Bellies full and bills paid, it was 11:30pm and we were headed back to the hotel. Late as it was, I knew I needed to wash some clothes. So I did that first thing and then I was OUT!! | Jenna's Journal
5: Santa Croce
6: The basement tour of il Duomo! | Lighting candles for family!
7: A little morbid but beautiful architecture!
8: June 10, 2005 - Florence Another wonderful breakfast with café, pastries and salami with cheese sandwiches! Our tour this morning was of the Academia. A gallery of masterpieces! This is where one can find the original Statue of David. Michelangelo created his first perfect image of the man who had slain Goliath as a young boy, but now depicted him as a man who was a strong warrior. Not my kind of gig, but I truly enjoyed it since we strayed from the group and actually got to enjoy it! Afterwards, we had free time, so mom and I who had already lost the group headed back toward Santa Croce to try to catch Anselmo, who was going to show us the best gelato in the Country! The restaurant is called “Vivali”. When we couldn’t find him, we went in search of it ourselves. I have to agree, it was pretty darn good! It was too early to go back to the hotel, so mom and I opted towards Ponte Vecchio! Along the way, we passed through Uffizi where they had a great fountain, remakes of the David (that you could actually capture on film) and living statues. | Jenna's Journal
9: We got one of them into the HAT and then he kissed me on the cheek like the Italians do so well. As it turned out, he was still wet and my cheek was now painted white. | Continuing on, we go a great view of the outskirts of the city and even ended up in the locals shopping district. We really got an opportunity to take in the city of Florence today and we truly met the world’s most charming men. lol. | Wow, there are so many things I’ve left out! Let’s back track just a little. Along the way today, we stopped for caricatures of me and mom in a gondola, but the artist instead drew us on a beach side and made me topless with some weird tassels!! HA!
10: Mom and I also had the opportunity to experience the Post Office scene and how it works there, yikes! Mom had said that Florence wasn’t originally one of her places of interest, but seems to like it best of all so far. | I think I’d have to agree. Now we must do dinner at 7pm (in about an hour from now) and get some sleep. I’m ready to take in Venice!! Tomorrow is a transfer day!
11: Oh dinner was good, but my Italian is still a little rusty!! On the way to the restaurant some of our folks were in the path of an oncoming car!! So I got their attention by yelling “Caro, Caro”. | Moments later, Dr. Heffel let me know that I was actually telling folks that I was expensive NOT that a car was coming!! Well, at least I wasn’t yelling “I’m cheap”! Then after dinner, Anselmo took us to Vivioli for more Gelato!! Mmmmm
12: Painter in "The Hat" | A great day in Florence, Italy! | Paint from my statue | Jenna on Ponte Vecchio
13: View from Ponte Vecchio | Mom in the fountain | It was her dream | Mom in the fountain | at Le Due Fontane Hotel
14: Pic with Anselmo! | Firenze!
15: One last look with our buddy, Tommy!
16: June 11, 2005 Transfer day means early to rise, quick breakfast and long bus ride. Well we had a few little stops. We went to the Michelangelo Square for a 15 minute last view of the city of Florence and another remake of the Statue of David. Then back on the bus for a scenic drive, Auto Grill Truck Stop lunches and some traffic. Finally we arrived in Venice! It was late afternoon but we were soon introduced to Francesca, our local guide of St. Mark’s Square. First and only stop was the Doge’s Palace, which was really awesome. Unfortunately our group again was a little slow moving so we didn’t get to tour anything else. However, we did sit in on the 7 o’clock Mass Service in St. Mark’s Bascilca. We couldn’t understand a word of it, but it was beautiful. They even gave us literature and sheet music to use during the mass. Sadly, though, there wasn’t as many folks there as I’d have thought. Afterwards, mom and I had a mad dash to the toilette and then back to the two columns with the statues of the winged lion and the warrior for our good walk (back the way we had just come) to do our Gondola ride. | Jenna's Journal
17: It was just before dusk, so the light was just right. I love how the light (sun) shines on Venetian Architecture. It changes the look of the colors and it’s just gorgeous! Then when it was over, we hopped on the vaporetta and left for the Hotel Seguna La Nazionale. Oh let me tell you. It was a mess! | Our lights weren’t on in our wing of the hotel. So the Concierge came to reset our breaker but we were still without, but he took off thinking he had fixed the problem (as we were now the only ones still without power). When I finally caught up to him (I’m talking a mile long hike in this hotel), he didn’t believe me!! | Long story short, mom was mad and threatened to go to another hotel, Mr. Porter was mad (He’s the Tour Coordinator) was mad and threatening Anselmo and Tomaso and the hotel. hey had already been dealing with the fact that Christina couldn’t walk the stairs to the hotel (and there was no wheel chair accessibility),
18: so they put her up at the place across the street, etc. Afterwards, we needed a drink and some dinner!! So late, late, late we walked into Gino’s Pizza. The pizza was awesome, the service was great, our waiter, Emanuello, was very cool. | We just felt welcomed and relaxed! Mom and Mary had Bellini’s. Then I and Mary tried Grappa, chased with limoncello. Then all of us, including Tommy had Frosty Mugs of Coca-Cola! HUGE mugs.
19: Richard, the security guard and now Christina’s personal wheelchair pusher, joined us and I treated him to a bear and he also ordered a “piocolo” coca-cola. Our waiter, who is very funny, brought him a shotglass of coke. It was great! he was, of course, kidding. Now around midnight, it was time to go. Soooo tired. Oh and I should also mention Tomaso’s Italian -a from the Vaporetti Ride. | “I-a wanta to tella you-a a Italiana proverb. It-a is-a beter-a to be alive-a and a coward-a than-a to be-a dead-a hero-a”. Dad would have hated this one and rolled his eyes, then said something like “and therein lies the mentality of the Italians (and French).
20: I remember singing here 9 years ago! | Amazing!
23: Dr. James Heffel bonding with pigeons! | The girls on their gondola!
24: June 12, 2005 - Venice A Free Day – Yay!! Mom and I slept in until 12pm today! After we got ready, we found Tommy out walking and we just shopped, shopped and shopped some more. We found and bought a bunch of gifts marking off a bunch of folks on our gift lists. Around 4:30 / 5pm we went back to the hotel, wrote out some postcards and re-arranged our suitcases before our 7 o’clock dinner. Tonight dinner was at Al Britetta or something like that. It was pretty good, but we, me and Mary, were ready to head back to Gino’s Pizza for ‘due’ (two) Bellini’s! Anselmo decided to join us and we were able to say goodbye to Emanuello. Now I’m back in my room, dreading out 6am wake up call. Haha if our phone actually worked!! Oh did I mention that for lunch mom and I had McDonald’s cheeseburgers and soon after, I also had a butter and sugar crepe?!! I haven't had one of those since France with my SOA crew in 1996! Yum! | Jenna's Journal
26: Mom & Mr. Italiano | Richard, Ans & Mary!
27: Mom & Anselmo!
28: June 13, 2005 - Pisa Today mom and I were dragging. Late to rise, but we managed to get our luggage to the lobby and our butts to breakfast. Then I opted to help the men get the luggage to the dollies downstairs which then go to the boat and then get loaded on to our buses. The whole process of living on Venice island is quite a chore. I bet moving days are a nightmare, but it is still pretty neat. Well as you have guessed today is a transfer day. Mary and I both had so much trouble saying arevaderci da Venezia! It looked like the mock crying scene in Miss Congeniality where “Gracie Lou Freebush” is practicing her acceptance reaction for Miss America. Lol Ok, so that is a little dramatic, but deeply felt. Venice (minus the bad hotel) was, is and probably always will be my favorite Italian spot. Other cities here are great, but nothing can describe the overwhelming feeling of joy that I have here. I just plain love it! But alas, we are Pisa bound, so it is a 5 hour bus ride ahead of us. We toured the outside of the tower, the Baptistry and the Church. It was very neat. The tower really is leaning A LOT! It is, however, the most (aside from one of the best Universities in Italy) that Pisa has going for it. | Jenna's Journal
29: Leaning Tower of Pisa | Wow! That tower really leans!
31: So we enjoyed sitting there waiting to see our fearless leaders who opted to walk to the top of the tower. All 179 feet in height. Poor Mary suffered from vertigo, a bit, but she did it. Tommy was just grinning from ear to ear. After the traditional photos of folks “holding” up the tower, we were finally off and headed to Monticatini.
32: June 13, 2005 - Monticatini After a long time on the bus just driving around the little town trying to find a nice and safe place to park and (us) unload the baggage under the bus and then walk to our Hotel. Monticatini is a spa town as is our Hotel Mossimo. However, the elevators are crazy! With baggage, maybe two people can fit in them and without baggage just 3 people. Our room here is great. We have space to move around. It is a corner room, so we have two picturesque windows, a couch and finally a shower with a little room and hard material, not a curtain that creeps up your butt. Just as most people hat panted their way up the stairs, we were all ushered to dinner without any refreshing time, but dinner was good. Another 3-coarse meal starting with pasta, then meat and potatoes, and dessert. However, we had h’ouderves of brischetta, liver pate’ and salami. But alas, ever with all that food, I had to have my gelati fill. So a small group of us (me, mom, Mary, Tommy, Tracey’s Aunt, Gilberto and a couple others) took a 30 minute walk and was able to try some new flavors. Before bed mom and I washed laundry, haha in the bidet and she hung her undies out on a clothes line on our balcony. It was too funny. Now it is time for post card writing and BED!!!
33: June 14, 2005 - Lucca Early to rise today, too early. We took a little trip to Lucca where we got to see the outside of Puccini’s house (a famous composer), St. Martino’s Bascilica and the Palace of French Princess Alyssa Bonaparte (niece of Napoleon). Mom and I picked up some chocolate during out shop time and the headed back to the bus. Our next stop was to a typical Tuscan farm for lunch, wine and more wine and more wine. They had their own vineyard (about 2 acres) and so we were able to try six different wines throughout the course of our meal. Pretty much without limitation, the bottle just kept coming. Tracey even lightened up a bit. She has finally given in to the Contenta draw, pull or whatever you want to call it. One of the ladies tonight put it best, “You can always tell which table Jenna and Donna are at, because it is the loudest and rowdiest.” To which I exclaimed that it wasn’t just us. Then she said that its just because we suck people in! haha I’m afraid that it is true. Unfortunately, we had our 1st European rehearsal right afterwards at the hotel and it was not at all good-a! Luckily, we will have another one tomorrow evening before our first performance. It’s a chance for redemption. Now a gelato and pizza later and I am totally wiped out and ready to go to sleep. Tomorrow is another transfer day. | Jenna's JOURNAL
34: Raining Day :)
35: Statue of Puccini
37: Earlier that day... | We toured a vineyard & had lots of vino!
38: June 15, 2005 - Assisi & Rome Thankfully today was our last transfer day (minus the return flight home). The weather kind of matched the mood most of us were in. Kind of glum and rainy. We left the cute little town of Montecatini for a short visit in Assisi and then to Rome. In Assisi we got to see the tomb/remains of St. Clair and the Church of St. Francis. Both were big, but fairly simple. Mom thought it was weird that there was no place to light candles and of the few churches that did some had some weird electric candles. A little too modern for her, I’m thinking. Haha St. Francis was a he and his life’s story was on the wall in many different paintings. In 1996 (November), they had suffered an earthquake and the repairs continue today. Assisi was such a cute medieval town with cobble stone roads and many little shops. We could have spent a few days there minutes the down pours. Mom, Tracey, Shirley and I had been separated from the group for awhile thanks to gift shops and chocolate shops, lol, but we did finally catch up with them and we all mad the bus/tour late to Rome. So after a quick stop for sold out pizza and salami sandwiches, we got back to Rome late with very little time to get baggage, room key, etc and prep time for tonights concert at Boneffecicies (or whatever). We did get there on time, thought and we, as well as two other groups, did perform in the church that had some incredible acoustics. Afterwards they gave us a little dinner on this beautifully lit-up patio type area that overlooked the night sky and city lights. Including St. Peter’s Bascilica and the Coloseum. | Jenna's Journal
40: The City on the Hill | St. Frances of Assisi | However, due to a 6am wake up call, we were ushered off to the hotel to get some sleep, being that it was 11/11:30pm! When we got back, Mary and I opted for some pizza and sodas. I decided to bring mine to the room, however, mostly to check on mom. I managed to forget to mention two very important details about tonight just before our rehearsal and concert! Not being used to out room location and hurrying to be on time, I took a new set of stair cases to get downstairs to the awaiting group/bus and managed to walk into a room (that had the stair-well picture on it) that locks behind you!! There was another set of doors leading to the outside, but they were chained shut! | So I looked at the old-fashioned elevator that said “Private” on it and thought well, there’s only one way out of here! So I got in to the elevator and pushed the button. The moment the door closed, the lights went out and I was trapped. I began pushing all of the buttons and then held down the bell/emergency button (which fails to call anyone, just makes an annoying audible noise). I even tried to text Anselmo, but this was the only place in Italy that my phone did NOT seem to have cell phone reception! I freaked out.
42: I started scrambling to push any and all buttons and by some miracle, the lights came back on and the elevator doors opened up!! I’ve never jumped out of any elevator so fast in my life! I ran back to the original door that had locked behind me and started banging on it with all of my might. Finally some Italian girl passing by with her classmates opened the door and I just burst through it like I couldn’t breathe and started yelling “Grazie, Grazie” and “elevator stuck” and waving my arms around like a mad-woman! Needless to say, her and her group (about 30 of them) began laughing as I finally ran off. I found my way to the lobby and just began balling like a baby. MEANWHILE, mom was walking around the streets of Rome pulling a suitcase of dirty clothes in tow, looking for the darn washateria. When she left, she had taken the key, which you actually need to unlock AND lock the our hotel room’s door. So when I left (and before I was stuck in the elevator), I left the room unlocked and unattended. I ask the front desk to lock our room, which I assume they had done. So back to mom, who was now lost because the directions received from the concierge were faulty (or misunderstood) and it was getting dark. She said she was gone for about 3.5 hours and cost her about $20 Euros (which were now quite worth more than the American dollar, to do our laundry. Luckily she was okay and we both made it safely back to room that night.
43: Performance at Bonafaccio
44: June 16, 2005 - Vatican Too early, almost late, Tour of the Vatican We hopped on the bus and did some more walking and finally made it into the Vatican Museum. While everyone else utilized the bathrooms, mom and I stopped for gifts. Then we finally began exploring. Once again, separated from our tour group, we got to see the Sistine Chapel and that was pretty surreal seeming. We saw a lot of famous sculptures and then we all (now again as a group) went to St. Peter’s Bascilica. It was pretty incredible. The tour group just breezed through it though. Definitely not enough time to see everything. Afterwards, we all shopped and mom and I mailed a couple things from inside Vatican City before we left for lunch and performance attire. Again, with our tight schedule we didn’t have a lot of prep time but we made it to the Vatican! Unfortunately, it was pouring its BUTT off, with no sign of that coming our way! Half of our group (including both directors did not make it to the Basilica on time. They made it clear, if you are late, you do not perform, bottom line. So it was touch and go. I couldn’t be sad or bad. I just felt the need for prayer. So we rallied a group together and I was able to lead us in prayer. Talk about awesome either we sang or not. It was great to be able to come together in group prayer. For yet another 10 minutes we began to think it wasn’t going to happen! Then we were all ushered to the choir performance area with about 8 minutes to the start of Mass Service! | Jenna's Journal
47: The C.O.M. & Beeville Choir at the Vatican! | Mom & I at the Vatican | I could not believe it! God is so good and sometimes I am so feeble minded. If it is His Will, He will make it happen. And he did! We had very little space to work with but we managed through it and I think it was pretty good! I did walk the communion line, but only for blessings (and I did it barefoot, not that anyone could see). Afterwards, we took a bunch of group photos in front of the pulpit, then mom, James and Paula Heffel and I high tailed it to see Pope John Paul’s tomb below the Vatican. I was shocked that we were able to take pictures. Paula was in tears, but it was truly awesome. Time for dinner and we were driven across town for a Pizza dinner in a restaurant. Then it was back to the hotel for some rest.
48: June 17, 2005 - Rome 7am wake-up call and by 8:55a we were looking at the Roman Coloseum. Once again we started out with our tour group and then quickly got bored with that. So, mom, Mary and I took off on our own to get into some “mischief”. Haha. We got pics with the gladiators then made way inside. It is huge and there was a stage, of course, because they still have concerts there; and that was huge too. Then the funniest thing happened. We saw a few China men and mom was like, we need to get a picture of someone wearing the hat from INSIDE the Coloseum! Well, one of the China men smiled at me so I thought here is a fun and kind man. So I asked him if we could persuade him to wear “The Hat”! He agreed, so we took our picture with him. Then one of his guys was like “You have good eye. His is CEO of our company”! haha. Then the CEO was like “Here this is the Big Boss, Gov-e-nor”! So we got him in the hat too!! It was hysterical all of his guys were laughing and taking our pics. Then they asked us if we knew Yao Ming, since we had told them we were from Houston. Mom and I burst into song, the Yao Ming song, which we just happened to have been singing sporadically throughout this entire Italian trip! It was great and they loved it. Then gave us their email addresses so we could send them pics and chat. So much fun! WE then left and explored some of the ruins then located the bus for our 11:50 pickup. Thomaso and Anselmo made arrangements for those wanting to go to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. We could with or without their guidance. So of course, you cannot go to Rome and miss these world famous landmarks. Today was much more relaxed! We had fun, even though we also had to get a first hand account of how crazy the taxi drivers are here. However, we were blessed with a driver that loves to sing and did so all the way back to the hotel. Tonight we ate dinner at a very nice Ristorante. There was music by guitar, accordion and a female vocalist that sang all of the Italian Classics. O Sole Mio, Amore, etc.
50: The atmosphere was wonderful, full of song and joy. Our wonderful guides and drivers weren’t able to eat with us, but we did give them a big, thankful cheer when they entered the room. Again, of course, we had a multi-coarse meal but with the added bottom-less wines, Rosso (red) and Blanco (white). Needless to say, most were feeling good including Beeville’s Dr. Lee (who mostly has a stick up his you know) and Tour Coordinator, Mr. Portman, who when trying to grab the attention of the group to give a toast, broke the restaurants champagne glass nearly taking out poor Dr. Heffel’s eye! Mary walked (just barely) over to get Carlos, the accordion player’s, phone number. She’s Crazy! After we got to the hotel, Anselmo, Thomaso, Mary, Paula and I went for one last hoorah at a local bar. For a short while though, due to a 4:45am wake up call. So it was back to the hotel for 4/5 hours of sleep. Luckily, I had packed up well before dinner.
55: The Spanish Steps | Making Friends
57: Our last night in Italy & last night with Ans :(