Italy 2015

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April 13, 2015

Our trip to Italy is about to begin. What seemed so far away is almost here as we leave for Southern Italy Monday, April 20, 2015.

April 19, 2015

Tomorrow we leave. The weather is looking fine for this time of the year. We have some travelers riding to O'Hare from Fond du Lac, some being picked up along the way, 3 more meeting us at O'Hare and even have 2 meeting us in Rome.

It promises to be a fantastic trip and we hope you enjoy Picture Blog to Italy, 2015.

April 20, 2015

Jeanne Pethan-Gail Rollins-Teri Cox waiting patiently for our plane at O'Hare.

Sandy & Wally Tesch showing that same patience at O'Hare

We arrived safely in Rome in beautiful, sunny weather on April 21 --- compared to the rain and clouds of Wisconsin and Illinois that we had just departed. . The Floridians, with a touch of Arizona travelers, were obviously a bit "chilly" but the rest of us Northerners were very happy and comfortable. Sun? Warmth? What are these "strangers in the lived of"hearty Midwesterners?  We found them, much to our delight, even though we had to go to Assisi, Italy to experience them.

We traveled  north in our luxury bus on our way to Assisi, making a sojourn about 30 minutes away from our destination city to eat. We had a delightful lunch at a roadside cafĂ© that most felt was great for what they were needing at that point, hot food!

On the way to Assisi, we first made a stop to visit the Porziuncolo Chapel at St. Mary of the Angel Basilica outside the walls. The Basilica was built right around and over the original church that St. Francis built when he had a vision from Jesus to "rebuild my church". This little church, perhaps 25' x 40' in size, is actually a Vatican Church and is recognized as if it was located right in Rome.

We viewed the Rose Garden of St. Francis which has roses without thorns.  St Francis is credited with the miracle of the roses. According to tradition, and attested at the end of the 13th Century, one night St. Francis, feeling the temptation to abandon his way of life, rolled naked in the ramble thorns in an attempt to overcome doubts and temptation. In contact with his body, the bramble bushes turned into dog roses without thorns.

Since then the Dog Rose Cultivar Rose Canina Assisiensis has been gown in the garden. It is also said that if one of the rose bushes were transplanted outside the garden, they would develop thorns.

It is in the rose garden where St Francis talked to the turtle doves, inviting them to praise the Lord. Doves have been nesting since times immemorial in the hands of the statue of St. Francis in the Rose Garden. These were real (below) live turtle doves in this picture.

After some Gelato was enjoyed by our group (ice cream which is the most delicious and not to be missed ice cream in Italy), we headed for our hotel inside the walls of Assisi

We checked in at the Hotel Giotto Assisi and had just a delightful Welcome Dinner. The "community that was felt" at the meal was something our tired bodies needed. After dinner most dismissed themselves for a much needed and welcome sleep to overcome jetlag..

Teri, Jeanne and Gail recovered from airport travel and enjoyed our welcome meal.

(Below) Meg Thibaudeau ReKittke and Adele Thibaudeau, sisters of Valerie, enjoyed the meal and companionship of the evening. They were 2 of the six Thibaudeau sisters present to not only enjoy the trip, but to celebrate Sr. Adele's 50th Jubilee (with the Sisters of St. Francis).

Wednesday, April 22

We woke to a hot and hearthy breakfast followed by a peaceful and informative presentation by Sr. Adele to start our day exploring the worlds of both St. Francis and St. Clare.

      We then began our walking tour of Assisi. In the morning we visited the Basilica of St. Claire and viewed this beautiful building and also were able to view her remains, actually in wax form with the actual body underneath.

We walked to where St. Francis was born on our way to Basilica of St. Francis. Of course, on the way we stopped for a precious 20 minutes at the Piazza del Comune (Main Street). In this area was the ancient roman temple, Minerva, which is the remains from when the Romans occupied Assisi (then called Allisium). It is an  active church today, but once served as a prison. It was there we took a break from the inclines of the city to enjoy the comforts & treats of "main street" Assisi.


Italy is known as the "land of earthquakes" and many of the buildings have suffered damage over the ages. We could also see the fortress, Rocca Maggiore, which has a rich and complicated history between the Papal Church and the Governments of Assisi, Some of our travelers visited it for the views it offered but it is empty at this time.

During our tour our guide shared that his actual name was not Francis, that he was baptized John. His father was not present at the baptism, since he was a clothing merchant and was in "
France at the time. When he came home he wanted "John" to be a merchant like himself and since he had just come from France, he named him Francis.

The afternoon,was free for all travelers to enjoy the wonders of the city and area.  Some walked and explored wile some took a taxi's to "Rocco Maggiore and some, like Wayne, Valerie, Gail and Teri took a taxi to "Eremo delle Carceri". This is a small hermitage in a steep forest gorge at the Monte Subasio in Umbria in middle Italy, 4 kilometers above Assisi. Actually it was 3 km to the gate of Assisi and then another 4 km to the site. St. Francis retuned here often during his lifetime to pray and contemplate like other hermits before him.


Wayne peeks into St Francis' cave. You can tell the cave and entrance was very small.

Valerie in front of the little altar in St. Francis's cave. The cross shows Jesus in front of the Bisotine Cross where Jesus is not suffering. It is a replica of the cross you can view at St. Clare's Cathedral.

April 23 - Siena

I thought before I went further that I should introduce our travelers, so I think I will download a picture to introduce our travelers.

Here are our traveler pictured in The:Piazza del Campo in Siena.

LtoR: Jim Davenport, Teri Cox, Jeanne Pethan, James Boucher, Lucy Boucher, Valerie Graczyk, Elaine Dishaw, Gregg Huennekens, Adele Thibaudeau, Camille Meyers, Yvonne Moyer, Clairese Huennekens, Sandy Tesch, Meg Thibaudeau, Wally Tesch, Gail Rollins, Del McCarthy...not pictured  -Wayne Graczyk (taking picture), Gordon Moyer.

This is the del "Campo from ground level.

Three of us climbed the Bell Tower (City Hall). Way to go Jim Davenport , Elaine Dishaw and Wayne Graczyk.  That was 485 steps (one way) if you are counting.

Like the movie, "A view from the top":

Sunshine on the Piazza with a little to eat and a drink of wine or soda. Adele, Elaine, Meg, Yvonne, our tour escort Rita and our waiter, name unknown

Elaine, Clairese and Meg taking a break for a picture on the narrow streets of Siena.

Friday. April 24 -Perugia

We head for Perugia today but first a note to the 5th grade students at Lomira Elementary School  ....This lion can be seen in Assisi. For other readers, the mascot for the School District is the Lion..

This lion is "sitting" right outside the Cathedral of St Clare of Assisi. He probably dates from 1250 AD.

.This lion sits in a fountain in the main square of Assisi and says "hi" to the students of Lomira as well.

Perugia was one of the main Etruscan cities. It was also the capital of Umbria. It has an interesting history having had four popes installed there. There was friction between the city the Papal authorities. At one point, to show their dominance, Pope Pius III had the fortress Rocca Paolino built right over part of the city burying 300 houses, 13 churches and the convent. He also had all the bell towers torn down (towers represented the power of certain families in a town...towers showed the wealth of the family). Once the unification of Italy occurred the fortress was torn down and replaced with a large city square and other areas rebuilt to fit the new image of Italy.

Our travelers walked underground to view portions of the buried city that have been excavated for touring.

Perugia is built on a hill so today people can go up and down easily with underground escalators. Here Camille, Teri, Gail and Elaine take advantage of these easy mode of transportation up to the remains of the fortress. 

Lucy, James, Del, Sandy, Wally, Teri, Adele, Jeanne, Valerie & Gail pose for a group picture with Assisi in the far background. We celebrated our departure from Assisi with fantastic Wine Tasting party just about a km outside the walls of  Assisi.

Five different types of wine plus food the delight everyone's palate.

Sandy and Wally Tesch enjoy a moment to remember in front of a wine barrel and Assisi in the background.

Saturday, April 25 - Tilovi Palace and Gardens

We visited the Villa d'Este in the Town of Tivoli. It took only about 12 years to build. It is bout 30 km east of Rome and is a beautiful garden/palace complex listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list. It was built in 1560 due to the vision of Cardinal Lppolito II d'Este who narrowly failed to become a Pope.

The gardens have 51 beautiful and ornate fountains
The three pools are about 12' deep
Wayne pictured in front of some of the 300 ornamental faucets along one side of the garden. The garden is about 30 acres in size.
This was once a fully functioning clock with adult size figures rolling forward every hour. Now it would take about 1 million euros to fix so it now only plays organ music at set times.
Elaine and Camille on one of the many staircases with the abundant and beautiful Glicine purple flowers in background.

Arrival in Sorrento

Our  tired yet happy travelers upon arrival at the Minerva Hotel in Sorrento, Left to right Sandy Tesch, Idelma (Del) McCarthy, Valerie Graczyk, Elaine Dishaw, Camille Meyers, Clairese Huennekens, Adele Thibaudeau, Jeanne Pethan, Gregg Huennekens, Gail Rollins, Jim Davenport, Teri Cox, Wally Tesch

Our welcoming view from our hotel window overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Sorrento.

 Out our window...foggy with boat and Mt. Versuvius in background
Wally Tesch, Sandy Tesch, Jim Davenport and Del McCarthy
Valerie Graczyk, Gregg Huennekens and Clairese Huennekens
Lucy Boucher, James Boucher, Jeanne Pethan, Adele Thibaudeau

Teri Cox, Gail Rollins and Elaine Dishaw
Enjoying our welcome meal in Sorrento at the hotel. It was DE-licious!
April 26 - Off to the Amalfi Coast

We were up and on the road 9 a.m. (We just love our leisurely mornings, letting people sleep in and enjoy breakfast)
We drove up the Amalfi Coast Road and boy oh boy, was it winding and twisting. The road was narrow and we didn't believe the narrow spaces our bus driver "squeezed" through on the way up, was nothing short of amazing. Pictures can't begin to show what we experienced, in a positive way, on the way to Amalfi.
We are talking about 2-4 inches between he mirrors of the busses. In this space our driver had to "back up about 100 yards" to let the other Bus pass by".
This was a "wide open" space compared to others. 

Talk about beautiful places to stop, Jeanne can attest to how breathtaking views we encountered.
Gail and Teri Cox, sisters, enjoy the view of Positano as well.
As did Jim Davenport and Del McCarthy
This the beach way below us in Positano with "Volcanic Black Sand", you can see the orange beach lounge chairs but think, "Mt. Vesuvius" and volcanos.

Zoomed in picture of the "Black Sand" and orange lounge chairs.
Sand, did we say "sand"? Well, like in the French Riviera, there is no real sand (except in Monte Carlo and Monaco)..Amalfi beaches are loaded with stones, pebbles and some sand..
But it was a lot of fun spending the afternoon in Amalfi---shopping, eating, browsing and just soaking up the sun and ambience of the area. Does life get any better than an afternoon in the sun and warmth of Amalfi?
Valerie Graczyk in the color of the area...yellow for the lemons which are.a main staple
 in the Amalfi Coast area.
Hats are "in".....Teri Cox, Jeanne Pethan and Gail I said, can life get any better than this?
Del McCarthy, Wally Tesch ( he is really happy) and  Jim Davenport...waiting for Sandy to finish her Gelato ice cream.
There Sandy is...finishing her Gelato. I know it was very good. since I have had several.   Del and her husband Wally are really not aware of her sneaky ways....but it was worth it, wasn't it Sandy?
But you cannot leave Amalfi without trying the Lemon Amalfi Cake. Creamy covering with whipped cream with real lemon pealing shavings over a delicious cake. Wow! Can't wait until we return. And, we were told, low in calories.  I don't think so but it was very, very good.
So it is off to Sorrento and an evening of relaxing, shopping, eating and sleeping.
What a fantastic day it way!!!
Tomorrow  we are off to the Island of Capri....and hopefully the Blue Grotto..but it is calling for 60% of rains.....time will tell.
April 27 - Isle of Capri & Blue Grotto - more to come - what an experience....this needs to be on everyone's Bucket List

Jeanne Pethan, Lucy Boucher, Gail Rollins, Jim Davenport and Del McCarthy sitting waiting for the boat to depart.
Valerie Graczyk, Adele Thibaudeau, Elaine Dishaw, Camille Meyers and James Boucher can't wait for the reason we are all here....The Blue Grotto adventure.
They say getting there is half the fun and Sandy & Wally Tesch are good examples of making it fun.

Jim Davenport enjoys a pretend "situation" on the way out to the Grotto while Del McCarthy enjoys his antics. Actually the waves were moderate but fun.
Ok, sit on the wood railing, swing your legs over the edge and get into the rowboat...much easier said then done as Camille Meyers demonstrates, with assistance from Adele and the rower for the boat.

This is what we all enjoyed and experienced. Wally & Sandy Tesch, Jim Davenport & Del McCarthy in their rowboat, preparing to enter the Blue Grotto, Notice the proximity they are from boat to water,,,which on this day was a "bit choppy", We got a chuckle out of the anticipation shown on the faces of the three in the back compared to the stoic Wally in the front.
Rowboats lining up preparing to enter the Blue Grotto

Elaine Dishaw is full of anticipation as she prepares to enter the cave. Adele Thibaudeau isn't sure but we know she is anticipating this exciting activity as well, just not showing it at this time..

Valerie Graczyk, Elaine Dishaw, Camille Meyers and Adele Thibaudeau are just loving their rower because he is singing Italian songs to them. That's Valerie gesturing to Wayne to "video this please" but didn't realize he was doing all he could just to take the picture while preparing to get into his own rowboat.

The doesn't look larger than it was. We had to lay back with heads even with sides of rowboat while the rower removes the oars, grabs a line leading into the cave, ducks himself and pulls the boar through the opening which takes all of about 3 seconds to enter fully into the enchanted world of the Blue Grotto.

I think it is safe to say that we were all in awe as we were met with this wonderful sight.
 This gentleman demonstrates the way to enter the cavern without bumping his head.

 Once inside, we were greeted with the most magnificent blue water, all without the aid of outside light. It was simply amazing and all the while our oarsmen are singing Italian songs, like Volarie, which echoed throughout the cave. Breathtaking and surely needs to be on everyone's bucket list for sure,

After our adventure Wayne & Valerie enjoy the sunshine that was not supposed to be,,,,pouring rain as we ate breakfast plus 80% chance of rain forecast for the day when we left the hotel, but the sun did shine plus we were one of last boats to go into the Grotto due to high winds. Later on they reopened the cave,.  Our tour escort simply said the trip was "Blessed", which due to our wonderful travelers, it was.
After 3 glorious hours of free time in Capri, our day ended at our hotel with with a spontaneous "wine social". Wayne &Valerie had purchased wine at our wine tasting event in Assisi and others items were brought in. We celebrated a nice quiet and simple wine/cracker social after the activities of the 'Blue Grotto and our visit to Capri. Elaine Dishaw purchased the crackers and cheese and we gathered at the hotel for a relaxing evening.. Teri Cox even provided Line Dancing lessons to the fun evening.
Teri Cox, Jeanne Pethan, Jim Davenport and Gail Rollins  with Del  McCarthy in rear, do the line dance.

Sandy Tesch, James Boucher, Lucy Boucher, Elaine Dishaw, Gail Rollins, Teri Cox Camille Meyers, Jeanne Pethan - It was a great impromptu social. 
April 28 - Pompeii

On our way to Rome we stopped in to experience the excavated ruins of Pompeii. Mt Vesuvius  erupted in one of the most catastrophic and infamous volcanic eruptions in "European history. It was recorded by an eye witness account by Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator.

It spewed a deadly cloud of volcanic gas, stones, ash, and fumes to a height of 33 KM (21 miles) ejecting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima bombing.. The sadness of this event is in just a few days time after the first eruption, and there was no lava or molten overflow, the people didn't see any more danger and went about their daily routines. It was only when the massive pyroclastic surges and ashfall deposits on days 2 and 3 that they realized, too late, what was happening. People died on the spot, in houses, in stables, on walls. This is why Pompeii is so important because it captured the ways of life of the people as if captured in a single day, kind of a snapshot in time.

The city was covered by ash to the height of 20 foot above the highest buildings. and extended the shoreline into the Mediterranean Sea about 1 1/2 km. It wasn't until 1748 that the site was discovered and excavations were begun.

Yes it rained but it didn't dampen the group's enthusiasm Standing on the steps of a small theater in Pompeii. 
Just imagine this buried under over 20 feet of ash. The ash, over the centuries, was converted to soil and was another reason no one could locate the precise location of the buried city until 1748 when it was discovered accidently.

Shells of bodies were discovered during the excavations. These are not mummies but plaster casts of the shell of actual persons found during excavations. People were found with hands over their mouths and noses for obvious reasons (gasses and heat).

Rome April 28
We arrived in Rome and checked in to the President Hotel in Rome. It was pouring rain but this didn't stop Elaine, Gail and Teri from taking a taxi and heading off to the Colosseum. They arrived and were greeted with no lines and entered immediately enjoying the solitude of their visit. Of course the pouring rain might have had something to do with the fact there were no people.

April 29 day

Three travelers went to the Pope Audience, Valerie, Adele and Camille.  Pope Francis passed by only a scant 10' away. Such a thrill.

The crowd began to assemble around 5:30 am with the seating area opening at 7:30 am. Our group arrived about 7:30 am and the crowds were massive. This scene is repeated every Wednesday unless cancelled for some conflict in the Pope's schedule.  
The rest of us had an enjoyable time at the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel followed by a tour of St. Peter's Basilica.
Since no pictures are allowed inside the Sistine Chapel guides use computer screens, sort of a
Smart Board, to show the Sistine Chapel and explains it before we enter so we have a frame of reference.  Pictured is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo. At first he refused to paint it but was eventually forced to do it. It took him from 1508-12 AD to finish it. He met the challenge of painting the ceiling on a curved surface, not flat. He also did it with no natural light, done all by candle light. The Chapel is used for the Conclave which elects each new pope.

While you can't see it on this screen, our guide is pointing to the face of a man being sent to hell (on front of wall in Sistine Chapel). Michelangelo was severely criticized by one specific Cardinal for painting so many figures without clothes. Michelangelo took the opportunity to paint this Cardinal's face on the man being sent to hell. The Cardinal demanded that he change it but the Pope supported Michelangelo.

 In the walkway within the Vatican Museum this is a painting on the ceiling. It is amazing that while it looks to be 3D, it is actually painted on a flat surface.

Part of our tradition is for a Someday Travel group going to the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel is a picture with St Peter's Basilica dome in the background. Left to right are James, Lucy, Del, Sandy, Wally, Jim, Jeanne, Teri, Elaine Gail, Wayne and Rita, our fantastic Tour Escort.

A contemporary piece of art sits in the middle of a courtyard called the Sphere within a Sphere. It is from the late 90's and revolves slowly when pushed slightly. Versions of this sculpture, diameters vary, can be seen in many settings worldwide including NY, San Francisco and Washington DC.

 Inside St. Peter's Basilica is the only pope buried above ground and in the Basilica. This is Pope John XXIII


And of course in St. Peter's is Michelangelo's Pieta.  It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. It is enclosed in a think plastic encasement since 1972 when a mentally disturbed geologist entered the Basilica and attacked the sculpture with a geological hammer inflicting much damage to the famous piece of art. It was restored and is now protected by the plastic.

While some were in the St. Peter's, Valerie, Camille and Adele walked to visit the Castel Sant Angelo Papal Fortress (Castle of the Holy Angel). It was originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hardrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. Later it was used by the Popes as a fortress and castle and today it is a museum.
Valerie inside the Fortress

We can't forget our Lion for my 5th graders at Lomira Elementary School. This one was in the Vatican Museum. Tthe Lion is the symbol of the Power of Rome.
The final day we had the afternoon free to explore and do what we wanted to.  Some sent postcards from inside Vatican City to get the postage stamped with the Vatican stamp. Others purchased religious articles, some took the Hop On-Hop Off bus to see the entire city from an open air bus. And of course....some took this last opportunity to have their final Italian Gelato ice cream.

Adele, Elaine, James, Lucy and Camille in Rome eating Gelato
We hope you enjoyed our picture blog. Our next trip is to Southern Spain in October of 2015. We also have a Southern Ireland trip in May of 2016 and Rhine River Cruise/Switzerland trip in September of 2016. Go to our website for more details.   
Valerie & Wayne Graczyk


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  2. Ciao belli, do you still remember me? Rita your Italian friend.. It was such a joy to see and read what written about the tour, and let me tell you great photos....had goose bumps in scrolling down all the programm...
    Valerie and Wayne, you are two beautiful people, never put distances between us and never tried to unconfort my position, you let me do my job and express my self in freedom... and i apreciated that so much... and you people? Ohhh great funny people, good manners people, thist is very important from my point of you.. So I really hope to see you again, in order to make you fall in love for Italy... Send you love....
    Rita Lorenzini