Siena has much to see and much to admire.  Siena has been designated  a World Heritage Site by UNESCO so it is always filled with tourists.

We first visited the main monuments outside the central area of Siena before heading to Campo Square.  Among them were the Siena Cathedral, begun in the 12th century, and considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque-Gothic architecture.  It contains an inlaid marble mosaic floor along with frescos and sculptures from many noted artists. But no photos were allowed!

We also toured the sanctuary of St. Catherine of Siena, considered, along with St. Francis of Assisi, the two patron saints of Italy.  Born in 1347, St. Catherine devoted her life to Christ.  Her original home is still in existence and we toured parts of it.  The sarcophagus of St. Catherine in beneath the high altar of Santa Maria soprano Minerva in Rome.  However, her head was parted from her body and inserted in a gilt bust of bronze.  It is entombed in the Basilica of San Domenico where is remains today.

From there we ventured into the central area of Siena, a beautiful open area surrounded by shops and eateries where we wandered and shopped.  This is the spot for the famous Palio horse race.  The race takes place twice a year, July 2nd and August 16th.  Huge crowds fill the square and any space above it.  The medieval horse race takes place around the perimeter of the square.  The riders are bare-backed and compete only for pride and a banner bearing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is televised each year, so try and take it in!

Our afternoon took us to San Gimignano, a small walled medieval town, known as the Town of Fine Towers.  It is known for its preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, as seen in some of the photos.  It is a delight to explore, with enticing shops and narrow streets offering saffron, wines cultivated from the area and lots of salamis prepared in the area.

After another exhausting day, we came back to our hotel, enjoyed another delightful dinner, and watched the lights come on over the hillside below.



After a typical European breakfast of meats, eggs, fruits, cheeses and sweets, we started out for Florence through the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.  The rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves were so impressive, but tough to capture through the window of our bus.

Out first stop, with our Florence tour guide, was to the Academy of Fine Arts, of course, to see Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David.  Not much one can say except to ogle, open-mouthed, as we circled this treasure.

We continued on through the busy, narrow streets to see the Duomo of Florence, known as Santa Maria del Fiore.  It is a cathedral that stands tall against the Florentine skyline and is the main church of Florence.

We caught a parade in the crowded Signoria Square, then headed through Holy Cross Square toward the Arno River.

Before heading out to lunch and an afternoon of serious shopping for leather and gold, we marveled at the famous Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge.  It was the only bridge across the Arno until 1218.  It was rebuilt in 1345 after a flood and was the only bridge not destroyed by the fleeing Germans during WWII.  It is lined with shops and apartments across its span and is very popular.

I am actually home, but will try and finish my last few days in Italy!



On To Tuscany

It is hard to say good-bye to Assisi.  There is so much there to love and we all wish we had more time to explore and enjoy the treasures that we found while there.  But we strolled down to our bus pick-up spot and boarded our bus to head toward Florence.

Our first stop was to the little town of Pienza, considered the “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism”.  We had a chance to stroll the streets and have a bite to eat in one of the charming restaurants.  A great place to stretch our legs and enjoy the charm so this little community.

Our next stop was to the little village of Bagno Vignoni, a town incredibly preserved since the time of the Romans.  The hot springs here welcomed pilgrims traveling to and from Rome.  At the heart of the town is a rectangular tank known as the “Square of Sources”, the original source of water from an aquifer of volcanic origin.   St. Catherine the Great and Pope Pius II are among the many noted visitors to the site.   The church of St. John the Baptist is located right on the square.  We walked to a park nearby where you can put your feet into the warm spring waters. Nice!

We boarded our bus and anxiously anticipated our last hotel for our trip.  Situated halfway up the hillside is this beautifully restored estate known as Villa Pitiana.  The oldest part of the estate dates back to the 14th century.  It provided food to an Abbey located at the top of the hill.  Villa Pitiana underwent a huge restoration in the early 1600’s where the main building was expanded.  When Napolean took over control of Italy, in the early 1800’s, many of the possessions were confiscated and it was not until the late 1800’s that the area was again under private control.  Restorations continued until it was turned into villa, although surrounding lands were still used to provide food for the Abbey.  Every room is different.  Although many modern conveniences may be missing, there is much to be admired in the beautiful structure.

After checking out the view from our room (a corner room with two windows!), we came down to dinner, then headed for a restful night with open windows–no AC!!!


The Beauty of Assisi

You cannot imagine the beauty and serenity of the village.  After the hustle and bustle of Rome, it is like a breath of fresh air to come to this  part of heaven on earth.

After breakfast we walked along the narrow, winding streets of Assisi down, and then up and up and up until were at the Basilica of our Lady of the Angels (Portiuncola).


No pictures were allowed in the church, but it was impressive.  There is not a lot of statuary, but beautiful frescos, ornately decorated altar areas and impressive architecture.  The painting on the right shows St. Francis, the patron saint of Assisi and of all of Italy (born 1181 or 1182 and died 1226) falling onto a bed of roses as a sign of his unworthiness to accept the commands coming from the angels.  At once, the thorns disappeared from the roses.  From then on, the thorns disappeared from the roses.  The roses in this courtyard continue to grow since that time, and the only roses in the world with no thorns.

We continued on to the Basilica of St. Claire which contains the remains of St. Clare of Assisi. She was a follower of St. Francis, dedicated her life to the poor and founded  The Order of Poor Ladies, also known as the Order of St. Clare.  She lived a very pious humble life and did much the assist the poor.

We continued on to the Town Hall Square and then on to the St. Francis’ Basilica and Tomb.

The Town Square is a beautiful open square that houses the important political buildings of Assisi. The architecture is beautiful.  The walk up to the Basilica is so impressive, as is the sight of the Basilica from afar.  The Basilica is comprised of two churches, an Upper Church and a Lower Church.  It was begun in 1228 and is considered one of the most important Catholic Churches in the pilgrimage to Italy. The frescos inside the church are amazing as is the architecture of the church.  Again, no pictures.  The moving moment for many of us is the tomb of St. Francis.  His stone coffin with iron ties is enshrined above an altar.   A faithful friend and servant, Jacobs dei Settesoli (a woman), was later added to near the entrance to the crypt.

Our afternoon was spent shopping and enjoying the beauty of Assisi.


Coming back the hotel we had a chance to enjoy the magnificent surroundings before heading to dinner and packing to leave Assisi.








Arrivederci Roma!-Take 2

I’m resending the last post because some of the pictures were misssing.  This one seems to have cut off the last part of my original post.  Not sure what is happening!

It’s time to leave Rome, but not before we had one more moving and exceptional experience.

Off we went back to St. Peter’s, this time for something really special.  Msgr LaPuma invited us to join him in a mass celebrating his 30 years in the priesthood.   We went down into the grotto where many of the popes are interred and celebrated mass at an altar directly under the main altar of St. Peter’s.  Imagine kneeling before the altar and having right behind the altar a mosaic of St. Peter, the first pope, whose remains are buried beneath the main altar and St. Peter’s was erected over this spot.  What an emotional time for all of us, including Msgr La Puma.  No pictures are allowed before, so I can only share the spot at the main altar of St. Peter’s where, if you look very closely, you can see the mosaic of St. Peter.  Fr. Peter Gower joined Msgr for a photo outside of St. Peter’s.

We had some time before our bus was leaving, so those that still had a bit of energy trekked off to the Spanish Steps, a Roman Baroque style of architecture that leads up to Trinita dei Monti church at the top.  We did venture 1/3 of the way up, but opted instead to get a picture, and head to Trevi Fountain. (Sorry, my pictures are out

Trevi Fountain is massive, filled with lots of statues and impressive architecture.  It was filled with so many people that the line to throw your coin was moving in one direction only, and no stopping!  One of our gals threw her coin from the top of the 3 layers of viewing stands before she realized it would never get to the fountain!!

We moved on to the Pantheon, originally buit as a Roman Temple, but now known as the Basilica di Santa Maria and Martyres containing the remains of noted Italian dignitaries.  Victor Emmanuel II, king for 1861 when Italy became united, to 1878 when he died.  The remains of the 2nd king, Umberto I reigned from 1878 to 1900.

One more jaunt before we board our bus to quess where?  Right!  Back to St. Peter’s, this time for a Scavi tour with a Vatican guide down into the many lower levels of St. Peter’s known as the Necropolis where many of the former popes are buried.  The tour took us to the presumed location of St. Peter’s burial spot, where bones were found.  Again, no pictures!

After a lovely drive to Assisi, we checked into the Hotel Giotto up in the hills and breathed a collective sigh of relief after leaving the bus and walking to our hotel.  The view is magnificent.  The air is clear and the pace is relaxed.  We love it here!!  Dinner was great, and we were exhausted and ready for some sleep!  We can’t wait to explore more of this fascinating area.








Viva il Papa

Today is the day we have been waiting for.  We are up early for breakfast and a quick walk from our hotel to St. Peter’s Square where we line up with the hundreds and hundreds of early pilgrims trying to see the pope.

They say that there were about 150,000 people there for this audience because so many people were in Rome for a jubilee and religious celebrations.  It felt like it.  I was so close!  I was next to the young boy who was carrying a white bouquet of roses.  One of the pope’s detail picked the boy up and brought him to the pope.  Was an experience.  So hard to put into words.  It was amazing!

We trekked back to the hotel and got ready for another journey, this time to view some of the Roman Castles and a stop at the charming little town of Frascati on our way to a vineyard.

It was so nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of Rome for a leisurely drive through the countryside admiring the vineyards and olive groves that dot the hillsides.  One of our Italian travel mates that was born in a nearby village an hour from Frascati remarked on the fact that fences enclose all of the homes and farmhouses along the way.  She said it is a necessary way of life to keep evil out!  Interesting!!

After enjoying a coffee in Frascati we continued on for our wine tour at the Castel de Paolis winery, where we enjoyed a tour of the wine cellars and some snacks and wine tasting before dinner.

Our dinner celebration here at the winery was in honor of our pastor, Monsignor David LaPuma who is celebrating his 3oth year in the ministry.  He was ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica with 22 other seminarians after studying for 6 years in Rome.  How great that we could honor him, and celebrate with him.  It was an exceptionally moving and highly entertaining evening.  After dinner we were entrained by a singing DJ who was joined by our tour leader, Simona, for some duets.  We watched the sun setting in the west over the vineyard and we didn’t leave until after the area was well lit at night.   A truly memorable evening.








More of Rome

(My program would not let me continue with the post, so to save time I decided to send it, and continue with another edition.)

After a quick bite to eat, we continued on to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.  The catacombs, developed about the 2nd half of the 2nd century, were an underground cemetery  that became the official cemetery for the Church of Rome.  More than 500,000 people were buried there in many layers, and went on for more than 12 miles.  You reach it from Rome by driving on a small portion of the famous Appian   Way leading from Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy.  The catacombs were considered sacred because the remains of 9 popes and many important dignitaries in the early Roman Church.  Small crypts housed babies and little children, som of which died of disease or maladies, others who were put to death because of deformities or other conditions.  All the remains have been excavated from the catacombs.

You cannot take photos in the catacombs, so I have little to show, except for a tiny bit on the Appian Way, a group of photos seen in our presentation, the stairway leading down to the crypts, and a photo of our group after the tour.  The picture at the end of the parking lot shows a group of trees in the distance know as umbrella pines.  They are found everywhere throughout Rome and I loved them.  By the way, Rome is considered the greenest of all the major capitals in Europe, and probably the world.  There is more than 8 thousand threes inside of walls of the original city of Rome.  Umbrella trees and sycamores are the most prevalent.

We continued on to the see the Church of St. Peter in Chains to dee Michelangelo’s Moses.  Note the statue of Moses, where Michelangelo appears to have changed his mind after carving the statue, and altered the direction Moses was looking, and never seemed to finish his left leg.

The Colossium was impressive from the main side which has been well restored, but much more work needs to be done.

Our evening ended with all the pizza you could eat!  We had a great Ike sampling some unique combinations of things on pizza and were well satisfied with what we had.

Exhausted, we left to get ready for another day.  I’m already two days behind, and don’t know when I’ll catch up.

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