Category Archives: Italy

Wednesday in Venice – Rain and St. Mark

11/5 – what a difference a day makes! We awoke this morning to the gentle lapping of waves on the shore… of our hotel! It is raining, and this morning’s high tide brought three feet of water into the city. Here’s the view out our window:

With our breakfast, our host (sorry, he is Russian and I can’t spell his name) brought up some knee-high Wellington boots in different sizes, and offered them to us so we could venture outside. Oh boy! Just like when Lexi and I go out to splash in puddles! We got on our rain gear, and sloshed out to see Venice in the rain.

Some shops were closed, but for others it was business as usual, in boots and six inches of water. The hawkers on the square were selling ponchos, plastic boots and umbrellas. Elevated walkways, like folding tables, were erected over some of the deepest spots, and in front of the Cathedral. By noon, the waters began to subside.

Now, if you recall our quest, we are Looking for the tombs of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, to the extent that they are known. Here in Venice, we don’t have any of the Twelve, but we do have St. Mark the Evangelist, purported author of the Gospel to the Hebrews that bears his name, and one of the original 70 disciples whom Christ sent out to spread the Word. Close enough!

Mark was originally buried in Alexandria, where he was Bishop, and conducted his ministry. In the year 828, his remains were hidden under layers of pork and smuggled past the Muslims (who can’t touch pork) to Venice. This mosaic is in the Cathedral: image

The Doge decreed that a cathedral be built in Mark’s honor. The relics were misplaced for a century, but eventually were found and installed under the high altar at the Basilica San Marcos. Here is the exterior of the Basilica, partially covered in scaffolding:

This cathedral is unlike others we have visited in that it is not lit in a modern fashion. The small windows, high up, don’t provide much illumination during the day. The candlelit interior must look very much as it did 1000 years ago. The low lighting helps explain why there was so much focus on filling cathedrals with gold – the reflective quality was needed to see!

The floor mosaics are particularly striking:

In the rear of the church is the high altar. We must pay 2 euro each to get close. image
The silver casket is inscribed Corpus Marcus Evangiliste


Behind the altar is a large gold panel, encrusted with gems.

We moved on to a side chapel, to find a place to sit and meditate. Another good day.

Tuesday in Venice

11/4 – we slept in this morning, until we heard a knock on the door. Our breakfast, served on a silver tray – cappuccino, orange juice, croissants, crackers, and an assortment of butter and jams. A feast, and breakfast in bed!


When we left our B and B, the pavement was all wet, although the sun was shining. Had it rained during the night? No! The high tide had flooded the streets, as often happens here in winter. The shopkeepers were busy squeegeeing off their display windows to prepare for the day. Lucky the waters had receded by the time we came out. There are high end shops of every variety, liberally sprinkled with the local specialties Murano glass, and beautiful masks, reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera.

Today we took the vaporetto (water bus) from the Rialto Bridge around the city. The weather is turning, and we think we should get our outdoor activities completed today. We got seats on the back of the boat, so we had an unobstructed view. Here is some of what we saw:

The bus let us off at St. Mark’s Square, home of many pigeons and hawkers trying to shame men into purchasing roses for their ladies. The square is too large to capture in one picture, so here are parts of it:




Here is the famous Cafe Florian on the square, proudly serving espresso to tourists at $8.50 a swig since 1720.



The tourists get a kick out of having pigeons land on them to peck for food. I was raised in NY, where we refer to pigeons as ‘rats with wings’, so I have no desire to let pigeons land on me.




Here is the famous white limestone Bridge of Sighs, which once connected the interrogation room with the prison. Lord Byron conjectured that the guilty would take one last look at beautiful Venice and sigh before they were locked away. It is also said that if you pass under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola, with your loved one, at sunset, and kiss while the church bells are ringing, your love will last forever. I imagine the gondolas must queue up here at sunset…


What a unique city, with a surprise around every corner. Tomorrow – St Mark’s!

When male and female combine

From Jim…


We are in Rome and plan to visit the bones of St. Bartholomew, St. Peter, and St. Paul.
We take the bus, then walk to Tiber Island to visit the relics of St. Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel in the Gospel of John). The apostle St. Bartholomew (probably) went to India, Ethiopia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia to spread the Gospel. He sometimes traveled with St. Jude. He may have been crucified but a major tradition states that he was martyred by being skinned alive. Medieval portrayals sometimes show him holding a knife and his own skin. His remains were brought to Rome in 983 and the Basilica of San Bartolomeo was built to store them. His head is in Frankfort, Germany; an arm is in Canterbury, England.

We arrive at The Church of Saint Bartolomew.

I approach the altar and sit to meditate. Some chairs have been set up to the…

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Salerno to Venice

11/3 – time to put another notch in our EuRail pass, and make our way north to Venice. We hate to leave the warm weather, but our quest must continue, and Italy is one of the more expensive countries we’ve stayed in. The high speed train took us northeast from Salerno to Naples then Rome, Florence, Bologna, Padua and finally to Venizia, where we skimmed across the water as if we were in a boat instead of on a train. First class passengers in Italy get free espresso, wine and crackers on board!

It’s definitely jacket and scarf weather here, although still nice and sunny. As soon as we got out of the station, I was overcome with the realization that this place really is not like anywhere else. There is water where the streets should be! Houses have boat doors! Taxis have outboard motors!

Jim got us a B and B in the heart of the old town, just down the street from the Rialto Bridge. We were instructed to call when we got in, so the manager could meet us there. I programmed the phone, which said we were 15 minutes away, so I called. “No!”said the manager, “don’t call me until you are standing in front of the door!”

45 minutes later, I understood why. We went over bridges, down alleyways, and who knows where, trying to reach the address. Our phone instructed us to turn every 20 feet, and then cut out periodically from exhaustion. We finally reached the street, a well-lit row of shops, and called again. “Are you right in front of the door?” Yes! “Then I’ll give you the code to let yourself in.” Another 20 minutes of hilarity ensued, while we set off the alarm, knocked a painting off the wall, and enlisted the assistance of the young woman in the shop next door to interpret what the man on the phone was saying. Once we got in and found the light switch, we were in a very nice ensuite with wifi. Oh happy day!

So, now we are ready to go out for a light supper (after all our snacks on the train). We find a little pizza place right around the corner, and order an 12 euro pizza. This is much more than a pizza cost in Rome, but we’re cool with that. We enjoy our meal and ask for the check – 22 euro! It seems that in Venice you pay a coperto (cover charge) per person for sitting at a table, in addition to a service charge, which is a percentage added to the price of the food. If there is music playing, you also pay an entertainment charge! Sheesh! Our bad for not boning up on local customs before venturing out to eat…

We look carefully at the menu posted outside the next cafe, where it clearly states: espresso ordered at the bar: 1.50. Espresso ordered at table: 7.50. From now on, all our meals will be eaten standing up!

We walked through St. Mark’s Square in the darkness. Tomorrow we will explore!

A Day in Amalfi

11/1 – from Salerno, you can get to Amalfi by taking a one hour bus ride down the Amalfi coast. The bus ride was stunning, and I couldn’t resist taking some pix out the window.

It is warm and sunny, and bathers are on the beach and swimming. Happy November! When we purchased our bus tickets, we were informed that today was a holiday, so the buses would run on a reduced schedule. Of course, it is All Saints Day.

Our goal today is the Basilica of the Crucifix, where the remains of the Apostle Andrew reside. St. Andrew, brother of Peter, was a fisherman, and it is noted here that he was the first Apostle. He was originally buried in Patras, Greece, where he evangelized and was crucified on a diagonal cross, then was brought to Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and finally to Amalfi in the year 1208.

When we reached Amalfi, the Cathedral is the first thing we saw, standing majestically on the square. image


Although it was Saturday, there was a mass in progress, so we slipped in the back to participate. A bishop was officiating the service, and after Communion, there were a lot of extra prayers invoking San Andreas. The recessional started up the main aisle, then took a left and headed down a flight of stairs. Where were they going?

St. Andrew’s crypt lies under the cathedral, in a similar configuration to Matthew’s crypt in Salerno. The unique thing about Andrew is that his sarcophagus has always given off a substance, referred to as manna, which is collected several times per year and distributed to the faithful. Today was one of those days! That’s why the bishop was here! Amid prayers and song, the priest opened the gate to the tomb and took out a crystal vial, showing everyone that it contained a small amount of something.


The stuff was sprinkled on a bag full of cotton balls, and blessed by the bishop.

Then the procession returned upstairs, and the cotton balls were distributed among the crowd. We did not get one. We had read about the manna before we came – what luck that we got to witness the celebration!

Here is Andrew’s tomb:


The statue of Andrew over the altar was done in the style of Michelangelo, by one of his students, also named Michelangelo.


The frescos in the crypt were not as well executed as the ones in Salerno, but there were many other artworks to see:

After the Cathedral, we spent the afternoon as tourists, checking out the little shops and restaurants. The nice thing about being a backpacker is that we have no desire to buy souvenirs, as we would have to carry them around for a year!

The ride back to Salerno was just as beautiful as the ride down.image

Another gorgeous day!

Rome to Salerno

10/31 – wow! Today we took a high speed train that went over 300 kph, about 185 miles an hour. The scenery just zipped by, and we were in Salerno in less than two hours.

Salerno is a city with a busy port, a long boardwalk for sightseeing, and an upscale shopping area for tourists. The downtown streets are decorated with tinsel year round.

Our quest today is to visit the Salerno Cathedral, called the Duomo, to see the tomb of St. Matthew.

Jim scored another wonderful apartment with a full kitchen, so we will be eating well for the next few days. The only hitch is that, not only does it not have wifi as promised, but it is in a dead zone where our phone doesn’t work either. You don’t realize how much you rely on technology until you don’t have it! Even when we walk down the block there is no phone reception, but the apartment is nice, despite what it says on the door: image

We found the Cathedral, which dates from 1058. There is an outer courtyard:

Inside there are three altars in the front, and chapels along both sides.image



We read the plaque for each chapel and sarcophagus, but found no mention of Matthew. Then we found the stairway down to the Crypt.

As big as the Cathedral was above, the crypt stretched out below, totally covered with frescos depicting scenes from the life of Christ, and edged in gold.

In the center was another staircase down to an altar with a window in the middle, showing the dirt on which the church was built. This is the tomb of Matthew. image



Although it didn’t rival the churches of Rome in size or splendor, the crypt was one of the prettiest places we’ve seen. A good day.

As an added bonus, here are Halloween pix of my two favorite girls – a Kitty and a Cat:


Rejoice in the way things are

From Jim…



We arrive in Salerno to visit the bones of St. Matthew, apostle of Jesus and (supposed) author of the Gospel of Matthew. Scholars are very doubtful that Matthew wrote this gospel.

Based on her reading, Karen says that the Christmas story, as told in the Gospels, was added hundreds of years later and that there was no census requiring Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem. “It doesn’t make any sense to force people to go somewhere for a census,” she says. “There’s no historical record of a census.”

I agree that a Roman census would have resulted in documents that could be studied by modern historians. I tell her that the story is what counts.

“Stories have power,” I tell her.

We walk to the Basilica of St. Matthew and view it from its inner courtyard.

We view the main altar at the Basilica of St. Matthew.


We visit…

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Thursday in Rome – the Vatican

10/30 – we saved the trip to the Vatican for our last day in Rome, so we could spend it cheek to cheek with 14,000 of our closest friends. We took the Metro to get there. In Rome, there are two Metro lines that go around the edges of the city, to avoid disrupting all the historic places within, so we had a long walk in addition to our cross-town ride.

The Vatican is both a huge place and a small country. Our primary goal is to see St. Peter’s Basilica, where the tombs of Peter, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddeus, also called Jude, are found. But while we are there, shouldn’t we also see the Sistine Chapel, recently cleaned and restored, with ceiling painted by my fave, Michelangelo? Yes, we should! The catch is that you cannot see the Chapel without purchasing a ticket to the Vatican Museums, so that is what we did.

We pre-booked a time to enter the Museums, to avoid the long lines, and this works well, although we still had to queue to get through an airport-like security screening. The Museums are diverse and wonderful, containing Egytian and Etruscan artifacts, tapestries, ancient maps and coins, frescos, loads of paintings, sculpture, and a room full of papal carriages, including the famous Popemobile. You could stay here a week and not see everything. The challenge is, with so many people, it’s hard to see ANYthing. Here’s some pix,mainly of ceilings and what I could shoot over the heads of others:

All the corridors of the museum have signs pointing to the Sistine Chapel. It is everyone’s goal. When we finally get there, guards are posted every few feet to push us onward. “No stopping, no pictures, no speaking. Silenzio!”. We are all craning our heads upward, trying to take in the details of all the stories. There is a low buzz from the people, admiring and exclaiming, that is interrupted every few minutes by another Silenzio! And a hiss… in Italy, they don’t shush, they hiss.

There are so many panels, and I only recognize some – Adam and Eve, the Last Supper, Noah, God touching Man. They are indeed clean, bright and pastel, not the smoky images remembered from my books. But my first impression is that they are so small – in my mind, God touching Man is huge, but in fact it is only one panel amidst many others, packed together like frames on a page of comic book. No photos were permitted, so here is a pic from a postcard in the gift shop:IMG_3438

After several tries, we found our way out of the museum and back on the road for the 10 minute walk to St. Peter’s Basilica, again with thousands of friends.

There was another security screening before we could enter the basilica, and the long line gave us plenty of time to take pix of the exterior. It is said that the two wings of the Basilica represent St. Peter reaching out his arms to embrace humanity.

We met an American couple, who had also been visiting churches. When we compared notes, we hadn’t been to any of the same places! I’m glad our Apostle quest is giving us a focus, or we could be here forever. Rome has no shortage of churches!

St. Peter’s is the biggest basilica in Rome, and is stunning. Peter’s tomb holds pride of place under the main altar,behind a gate, so we can’t approach too closely. The pic on the left is magnified – can you see the ossuary?

The left transept contains the Altar of St. Joseph, which is where the remains of Simon the Zealot and Thaddeus/Jude reside:

And then there was Michelangelo’s Pieta, just as beautiful as when I saw it in New York at the Worlds Fair in 1964:image

On our way out, we caught a glimpse of the Swiss guards: image

All in all, a lovely day!image

Wednesday in Rome – More Apostles

10/29 – yesterday we walked to sights that were near our B and B (near the Roma Termini train station). Today our goals are farther away, so we had to navigate the bus system. We prefer to travel by Metro if we can, as the routes are fixed, and the maps and signs make it easy to identify where to get off. Buses are another matter. We can’t tell where we’re going, and are never sure if we are at a stop or just a traffic light. Our smartphone has been a godsend on this trip – we just program the GPS, and it tells us when to jump off!

Our first destination is Tiber, a tiny little island right in the middle of the city.


On the island is the church of San Bartolomeo all’Isolla, which houses the remains of St. Bartholomew (also referred to as Nathaniel in the book of John). Here is the church, and the statue of Bartholomew outside:



The body of St. Bartholomew (or parts of it) lies in a Roman bathtub that serves as the base of the central altar:



The eastern iconography at the altar reminds us that he is the patron saint of Armenia.




Bartholomew is said to have been flayed, so is often shown in art holding a tanner’s knife.

We hopped on another bus to get to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the oldest basilica in Rome, dating back to the year 193. This place will knock your socks off, and my pix won’t begin to do it justice. Here is the main door – even from across the street, the building was too huge to capture.


We are here to see the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul, which found their way here around the year 900. They are the focal point of the main sanctuary. The golden reliquary for Paul, holding a sword, is on the left, and Peter, holding the keys to heaven, is on the right:



This sanctuary also displays life size marble statues of the 12 Apostles, leaving out Matthias (everyone leaves out poor Judas), and showing Paul as the twelfth apostle. Paul wasn’t on our initial list, but we added him on. The statues show each Apostle with his emblem. Here are Peter and Paul:



Here is Bartholomew, holding his skin:


And for the folks back home, here is Thomas, with his carpenter’s square:


This church also boasts the marble steps that Jesus walked up when he came before Pilate. These have been covered over in wood to preserve the blood stains on them. We didn’t get the steps, but here are a few more images of a beautiful place:

Tuesday in Rome – the Colosseum

10/28 – no trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Colosseum. It’s really old, and really big. It was built in the first century, to provide entertainment for Roman citizens, and ended up being a neat way to get rid of prisoners, malcontents and pesky Christians. Contrary to popular belief, we were informed that contests seldom ended in death.

Once inside, you can see the galleries, the floor where the action took place, and the warren of small cages and enclosures under the floor where the animals and prisoners were kept.

Part of a mosaic floor:


There were four underground tunnels that used to connect the Colosseum to other parts of the city, but as the city encroached, they were disabled so that new roads and the Metro could be built.

There are so many old things to see in Rome, that I had to restrain myself from snapping at every structure we passed.

Whoops – almost forgot these two old things: