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Danny and Diana - Pilgrimage to Italy

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S: An Italian Pilgrimage!

BC: DEPARTED | ITALY | 18 OCTOBER 2012

FC: An Italian Pilgrimage! | Venice | Florence | Rome | Assisi

1: Buon Giorno Italy | ITALY | ARRIVED 10 OCT 2012 | This trip to Italy is Danny and I's first journey across the Atlantic. A wonderful adventure full of first time experiences for the both of us. We left from Miami International Airport at 4:15 p.m., October 9, 2012 via Alitalia Airlines. After a long 10 hour plane ride a with some turbulence, we made a transfer in Rome and arrived at the Venice Airport around 10:30 a.m. the next day.

2: Island of Morano | Upon arrival at the Venice Airport we met our tour manager, Ambra and bus driver, Luca. From the Airport we rode to the Hotel Anthony Palace to drop off the bags. We finally made it to a taxi boat stopping by the island of Murano to see the famous Murano glass blowers. A dying art only a handful of craftsmen remain. The pieces in their galleries were amazing.

4: After Murano, we spent the rest of the afternoon in Venice. Our guide Ambra, brought us to the piazza San Marco, where we broke off and explored on our own. As we wandered the streets, a lone Gondolier asked us if we wanted a romantic ride on a gondola. It was fun and we added our first check to our list must have Italy experiences. Next Gelato! | Venezia

7: Day two, after a good night's rest the group hopped back into the taxi boat and we headed back to Venice. Where we received an official tour of the city. Afterwards, Danny and I wanted to get away from the hustle of the tourist areas and headed towards the residential neighborhoods to explore the other half of the city. We stopped for lunch and some fresh Meringue for dessert. After lunch, we went for a walk where we saw the naval base, an antique shop, a grocery store, and finally strolled through a park. Something we noticed about Italy was that public restrooms (WC) are hard to come by, not free, and most of them really stank. The finale for day two was singing at the 6:30 p.m. Mass in Basilica of San Marco. The best part was warming up in the piazza. People stopped to listen. Someone put down a hat and we made 10 Euros for our singing. | BASILICA OF SAN MARCO

10: Ciao!

12: Firenze

14: Day three, October 12th, from Mestre we hopped on to the Strada Statale 14 (Highway) headed to Florence. After a "technical stop" Ambra's name for a bathroom break, we arrived in Florence and had a quick lunch. Then it was off to see Michelangelo's David housed in the Accademia Museum. A tour guide led us through the streets pointing out sights. Along our journey we went to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, inside we were able to stop and sing a song for the tourists. From there we meandered through the streets till we arrived at the Piazza. At the Piazza Del Signore we sang in front of the replica of David and hundreds of people.At some point as we headed to the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo, Danny got hold of the guide's flag and led the group dancing through the streets. We had dinner at the Hotel where everyone sang happy birthday to me.

16: To Danny, On my 29th birthday in Florence. Thank you for making it such a special day. Love, Pretty

17: Glu Uffizi Firenze | THE UFFIZI FLORENCE | Day four, our one free day on the trip. Danny and I went to the Uffizi Museum. We were able to get a and skipped most of the line. The Uffuzi was the home of the powerful Medici family, now it house's some the most famous artwork in the world. Before leaving the museum we made a technical stop. The bathrooms were interesting and part of the unfinished basement. You could see the historic architecture that existed under the building.

18: After the Museum, we wandered through the streets looking for a place to eat. On the way we stopped in a leather shop where we ended up buying leather jackets. They tailored our jackets right in the store while we ate at a little restaurant a couple blocks away. We were the only people at the restaurant. The food was very good and much cheaper than Venice. For dinner that night, Ambra took part of the group to a lovely restaurant in the Chianti region. There was more wine than we could drink. The food was delicious. The most talked about drink that night was the blue champagne, the first glass we had before dinner. Musicians sang to us throughout the dinner and we joined in on a few songs. When it came time for dessert, they brought out a cake with candles and sang happy birthday to me. This was one of my favorite birthdays!

22: Siena | Saint Catherine of Siena, (1347-1380) a Scholastic philosopher and theologian. She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970 and is one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with St. Francis of Assisi.

24: Roma

25: Day five, We left Florence early and made a quick stop in Siena to see the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Siena. I lit a candle there and many candles throughout our trip saying prayers for loved ones. Afterwards we made a technical stop and had lunch on the way to Rome. We arrived at the Star Michelangelo Hotel with just enough time to change for Mass. The hotel was nice. Our room keys were actual keys on a big honkin' keychain. The room was small, but it had a big bathroom and a pillow menu for ultimate sleep comfort.

26: We sang at St. Peter's Basilica at the 5 o'clock mass. St. Peter's Basilica is the biggest, most ornate church in the world. I was excited, nervous, and overwhelmed at times. Mass was an hour of confusion and sheer terror of messing up. We didn't even get a chance to warm up before Mass. With all that said and done, we actually got to sing in thee St. Peter's Basilica, what an honor. It was such an awesome experience!! This trip challenged me on a personal level. It required me to give up control of planning events and I had to roll with the 'changes'.

28: Day six, exploring Rome. We started the tour at the Church of St. Peter in chains. We saw the actual chains St. Peter wore as he was brought into Rome. It also housed Michelangelo's Sculpture of Moses. From there we walked to the Coliseum for a cursory tour of the ancient Roman Ruins. Lunch was at a small lunch counter with more delicious gelato for dessert!

31: In the afternoon we toured the Vatican Museums where we were driven like cattle through some of the most amazing artworks in the world. They included the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta. Exhausted, we stopped for dinner at a little restaurant across from the Vatican. After a long day of sightseeing Danny and I took a quick rest at the hotel. Later that night at a cafe around the corner we bought some drinks and reconnected with the rest of the world thanks to their free Wi-Fi.

32: Assisi

34: Day seven, began at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The Porziuncola was remarkable. I was moved by the people praying in such a tiny church. The two basilicas we visited in Assisi were impressive because of their high level of church activity. Almost all the other Basilicas were crowded by noisy touristas. After a short moment of prayer and reflection we headed back to the bus. Along the way Danny bought some Gelato, AT 10 AM!! Though I have to admit it was delicious. | The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli was constructed between 1569 and 1679. Within the basilica exists a 9th century little church, named the Porziuncola. It was here that the young Francis of Assisi realized his vocation. He renounced all his worldly goods to live in poverty. Shortly thereafter he founded the Franciscan movement.

35: The bus had to park below the city of Assisi because the narrow streets were steep and the turns too sharp. Running behind schedule, we just barely made it to the Eleven O'clock Mass at the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. To make it on time we had to run up the hill to the Basilica, but it was worth it. I was one of the first who made it into the Lower Basilica. We were greeted by a smiling priest who realized we were the choir by the music in our hands. He then led us to our reserved pews. Crammed in and catching our breath we sang. The acoustics were amazing. At the end of Mass the priests gave Sr. Helene a certificate and they stayed after for pictures. After lunch we took a walking tour through the streets. The views from the city were beautiful. After the trip Danny and I agreed, that Assisi was our favorite city!

36: Audience with the Pope | Vatican City

37: Day Eight, after breakfast at the Hotel we walked over to Vatican City. The morning air was chilly as we waited in line (a very un-Italian thing as most people usually cut lines) for the Audience with the Pope. Ambra led us to the best section where we could view the Pope as he drove by. We had to take two rows of seats from a German Emmaus group that were trying to reserve the whole section. The rude Germans were all dressed in red hats and yellow scarves. There was some confusion as to when we were supposed to sing. We were not sure if it was during the reading of the list of pilgrimages from around the world. When the Pope drove by most everyone was able to snap a good picture of him. The ceremony was interesting, but quite long since everything was said in five different languages. At the end of the Papal Audience we decided that whether the he could hear us or not we would not leave until we sang Cantate Domino one last time.

38: With two and half hours before our last guided tour we had a couple more sights to see. So with Sr. Pat, as our guide, and Maria Ochoa, along for the ride, we all headed for the Spanish Steps to see a famous painting of Mater (Mary). This was the one thing Danny wanted to see. The painting is very important to his school's founding religious order, the Religieuse de Sacré-Coeur de Jesus (RSCJ). Sr. Pat is a member of the same order and knew where it was located. She was able to convince the guy at the school's front desk to let us see it. | Madeleine Sophie Barat | Mater Admirabilis is a fresco of the Virgin Mary, at the Trinit dei Monti, a church in Rome. It was painted by Pauline Perdrau in 1844. Legend has it Pauline had been asked by the nuns at Trinit dei Monti to paint a mural of the Blessed Mother. After weeks of painting, Pauline finally finished her work. When the Mother Superior saw it, she said the colors were too bright and bold and immediately covered it with a large piece of fabric. Years later, Pope Pius IX was visiting the church and questioned what was behind the drape. The Mother Superior tried to distract the Pope from it, but he demanded to see it. When he drew back the fabric, it revealed the painting Pauline had created years before. The colors had faded and blended together to create a softer image than the years before. The Pope declared her Mater Admirabilis, mother most admirable. He told the Mother Superior to never cover this beautiful piece of work again.

40: I went with the group to our last guided tour of the catacombs and St. Paul outside the Wall. The catacombs were morbidly fascinating. It brought us to the | beginning of the Christian church, to a time when declaring yourself a Christian meant almost certain martyrdom. Here the first saints were buried and the first churches were built. They were hidden underground away from the eyes of Rome. Throughout the trip we spent most of the time in our tours looking up at the artwork. At St. Paul Outside the Wall, my neck ached from looking up all time. The size of artwork and the churches gave me a better sense of the early church and it's prominence in people's lives. From St. Paul we drove right to the Farewell Dinner at the Bernito Restaurant. We enjoyed live music and good food. One last meal, one last moment of Italy, before our long plane ride home.

43: Arrivederci Italy! Until we meet again...

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