Reflections on Italy
We returned from the FPU Alumni and Friends Tour to Italy in July enriched, a bit tired, sometimes feeling overwhelmed with what we had experienced. Travel changes your perspective, your way of seeing. It challenges us and helps you see and experience things and events in ways we might not have been able to before. And when you travel to a place like Italy with overlapping historical remains from the ancient, medieval, early modern and modern worlds the experience takes a while to sort out and deepens with time and reflection.
I asked our group of eighteen travelers to offer some of their trip highlights. Here are their reflections.
Many reflected on how much we had seen. Some liked the ancient cities of Ostia and Pompeii. These uncovered ancient cities showed us how Romans lived (they even had toilets that flushed after a fashion). And, of course, many thought of Rome itself—the Colosseum, the Vatican, the ancient ruins with the modern city all around.
Others recalled “all of Florence.” And some thought Michelangelo’s work was amazing—the statute of David, the human forms pulling themselves from the marble, and the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
Many of us were awed by the first site of the Duomo in Florence, along with Giotto’s campanile or tower, and the baptistry with Ghiberti’s bronze doors.
A number of us attended a Mass at the Duomo on Sunday morning (and then enjoyed a pastry and drink at a café on the plaza). The interior of the dome, with its painting of the afterlife rising up to the cupola brought a particular view of reality to the experience of coming before God in worship with people from all over the world. This was a highlight for many of us. We often worship wherever we are when traveling. We are always welcomed and refreshed and inspired to be with others in this common experience.
Two cities were noted especially, but for different reasons. We arrived in Siena the day before the Palio—the twice-yearly horse race between the dozen or so intensely competitive neighborhoods of the city, identified by their animal mascots. Siena was alive with preparations for parties, dinners, celebrations, and awash with people crowding its narrow and twisting streets. The Duomo featured St. Catherine who as young woman inspired people in Siena and far beyond, and who influenced political and religious leaders, convincing the Pope to return to Rome from under the influence of the French king in Avignon.
We took a special side trip to Assisi. For many of us this was a spiritual experience. The art in the cathedral tells the story of the many events of the life of St. Francis. Every wall is covered with paintings by many different artists. I picked up a little book of scenes painted by the famous artist from the early 14th century, about 100 years after Francis, Giotto. The paintings and the story were overwhelming. This was a place to sit and think or pray. Our guide was knowledgeable about the art, and also about the spirituality of Francis.
We also visited the small town of San Gimignano, with its tall towers, on a hill overlooking Tuscany. You cannot get much better. A few remembered have some of the best gelato in Italy (and we had a lot of good gelato throughout the trip to compare it to!). The line for the little shop wound its way outside, and across two or three other shops, but it moved quickly, and the wait was worth it.
I asked the question about highlights at the end of our trip, so Venice, where we stopped first was back deeper in our memory. But a few mentioned the canals, St. Mark’s Basilica with its Byzantine dome and tiled mosaics, the brightly colored houses on the island of Burano, and, of course, a ride in a gondola with a soloist to set the mood.
Some special moments of the trip were recalled—the cooking class where we learned to make ravioli together (about 15 feet long as I remember it), and the opera dinner in Rome, a “bike ride on the Napoli coast,” our stay on Lido island in Venice, some of the unique shops, a sing-along at a restaurant in Venice, haggling over prices, dinner at the Rialto bridge, for those who stayed on for the extra excursion to Naples the beauty of Capri, and our extraordinary guide, Filomena.
Many mentioned the good time we had getting to know each other, talking over dinner, long walks as we toured the sites. In a few moments of reflection, we see how travel opens our eyes, minds and hearts.