Italy with CSA 2012

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then we have a mouthful (18,000 to be exact)!  Enjoy some additional memories of our time in Italy....

Michchiangelo’s Piata…the original found in St. Peter’s in Rome
Tomb of St. Agnes – Basilica of St. Agnes
Left to right: Joan Schielke, Sister Jo Marie Zielke; Sister Mary Ann Czaja; Sister Diane Bauknecht, Kathleen Cepelksa
Body of St. Agnes. Left to right: Kathleen Cepelka,  Joan Schielkd, Sister Mary Ann Czaja, Sister Diane Bauknecht, Sister Jo Marie Zielke
 Inside of Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls
Lisa and Rachel in Tivoli
Wayne and Valerie in Tivoli
Kathleen in Tivoli
Sister Jo Marie Zielke in Tivoli
Valerie and Wayne Graczyk in Tivoli 

Ken, Barb, Valerie and Wayne in Tivoli
Sign to catacombs - St. Agnes Basilica
Jim, Ginny & Cindy
John, Pamela, Kathleen, Bob & Maureen
Barb & Susan
Rome...Roses from the guys – Cindy –Joan-Mary Ann-Ginny-Audrey (and Wayne & Jim)
Last dinner in Rome: Ginny, Joan, Audrey, Cindy, Mary Ann & Valerie
Saturday, April 28, 2012:

We're back!

Thursday, April 26, 2012:

We reached Venice via our own private boat to reach St Mark's Square. We had an excellent guide who took us to Doges' Palace, St Mark's Basilica (San Marco's) and the sad explanation of the Bridge of Sighs. Within Doges' Palace was the prison for criminals. If any were sentenced to death, when it was their turn to be hanged they would be walked across this bridge so they could look out the very small "peep holes" to see the world for the last time, and let out a "sigh". We were led on our 2 hour tour then the traveler's had about 6 hours of free time to ride a Gondola, eat, shop or probably all three. I asked travelers to write a word or phrase to describe Venice. They say it so much better than I ever could:

"Our Gondoier, Alexander, was gorgeous!"

"Venice is the cherry on top of the Gelato of Italy!"

"The shopping exellent, prayer time, friendship of everybody." (Maureen)

"Fabulous Trip! Venice was totally delightful. Once in a lifetime experience." (Jim & Ginny Gilmore)

"The best day of the tour. Loved shopping experience. Bellisamo (beautiful) & fun!"

"Gondola ride in Venice! How can you beat that? Loved the guided tours."

"The Basilica of St Mark was overwhelmingly beautiful."

"Excellent trip. Rome, Assisi & Venice the best. Valerie & Wayne, job well done." (John & Maureen)

So tomorrow, April 28 we begin the trip back to the US, but the memories will stay with us forever.  Enjoy the photos from our time in Venice.

Yellow boat to Venice
On the way to Venice!
Doges Palace marble staircase 
Doges Palace marble staircase 

St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark's Basilica

S Jo Marie and Sister Diane

St Mark's Square

Bridge of Sighs
Doges Palace Court Yard
John & Maureen 

Thursday, April 26, 2012:
Bologna and Padova!
We left Siena and headed to Padova for two nights. On the way we needed and took a break. That stop was Bologna. What a charming and delightful city! We could only stay for an hour and a-half and travelers either ate one of the fine restaurants available to them around the Plazza Maggiore, the city's main square, or visited the famous San Petronio's Basilica, or did both. Of course, shopping must always be included! We left Bologna in the early afternoonn got cleaned up a little and then ventured on a guided walking tour of old Padova. The Basilica of St. Anthony was next on our place to visit and it left a lasting impression on many in our group. St Anthony of Padua is one of the most revered of all saints and was well received by our travelers.  We left Bologna and laughter erupted on the bus when Chuck read some Italian phrases directly from his Italian Phrase Book. I have to share some here and these are taken directly out of the book. Under "Asking Someone Out". An example was given, "Would you like to do something tonight?" The final phrase broke us up and here it is..."Not if you were the last person on earth". In another section, "hairdressing" they had "Don't cut it too short", "Cut it all off", and this one, "I should never have let you near me". Great laughter, a great way of  enjoying each other's company in a positive way.

In the evening we had a beautiful sit-down, 4-course Farewell Dinner (one night early due to scheduling issues). It was celebrated on the 7th floor of the hotel restaurant over looking the city. The dinner was preceeded by a cocktail party complete with snacks and white sparkling winr. The "community" built was priceless and it carried into the next day's site, Venice!

Garden Hotel in Siena before departing for Bologna
Garden Hotel in Siena before departing for Bologna

Valerie and Wayne Graczyk in Bologna, Italy
Gelato and the Neptune Fountain in Bologna, Italy 


Padova Main Center

Church in Padova, Italy

The group enjoying a rooftop champagne party
Audrey with Sister Mary Ann

Wednesday, April 25, 2012:
It's Wednesday already!  The travelers are blending in so well so that part is going super. Today we took off for a Greyhound Bus adventure traveling from Assisi to Siena. Before leaving we had another great European breakfast. Who can argue with so many of them so thin and physically fit??  It has to be diets and walking so much - like the 7 hills of Rome, the steep streets in Assisi and the Tuscany hills upon which Siena sits so peacefully. In Siena we toured the beautiful Basilica of St Dominic and the exquisit Cathedral of St Catherine.

The flexibility clause in our travel suggestions was invoked today but once again all worked out to our and the travelers' benefit. For those not familiar with this, Wayne & Valerie begin all tours explaining that they cannot control things like rain, wind, airline delays, strikes and schedule changes by such things as holiday shutdowns. The travelers are told all we can do is accept & adjust. We generally find that invariably the net outcome of the change far exceeds what we had intended to do in the first place. And today was no exception.

Due to an unannounced change in the check-in time at the hotel in Siena, we had to modify our trip to Piazza de Campo and hence, our return. The de Campo is recognized as one  of the best places to visit when in Tuscany.  But, not to worry. We got back to the hotel after enjoying our time there and fully intended to return in the early evening. While our schedule said to return, our bodies said otherwise. After talking with all travelers, it was the consensus not to return to the de Campo and instead took naps, took short walks or simply "crashed" before dinner. As usual the results were positive. We ended up joining with each other at the hotel restaurant, eating, laughing and even bantoring around, all the time further creating "community" as we continued the bonding and moving from a group of people traveling together to a group of friends traveling together.

Tomorrow we travel to Bologna on our way to Padova. I asked travelers for comments and heard from 3 so far.

Cindy W - Many of our guests are enjoying the shopping. Beautiful Italian leather, silk and cotton scarves with gorgeous Italian lace and all kinds of jewelry, dishes. Figurines are popular along with special mementos in art, wood carvings and specialty food & wine, not excluding olives. Our most discerning shoppers have this advice:

1. Know the prices of comparison items in the US. While leather purses range in price from $30-$300, finding the best quality for good quality is the key.
2. Always look for items made in Italy.
3. If you see an item you LOVE, and you can afford it, buy it! You will never have the chance again.
4. Always ask the vendor, "What is your best price?" If you buy more than one item push for a quantity discount.

Audrey - At lunch in Assisi I asked for soup. The host replied, "No no no, a special...very good....Risotto...Asparagus". He laughed as he saw my blank expression. My friend and I tentatively said, "ok". I asked her, "Do you have any idea what we just ordered". She replied, "No". We agreed that this was part of the experience. Our lunch was EXCELLENT---we had Risotto with Asparagus, aeticholes and mushrooms. It is fun to leave it to the experts. And eat Gelato every day was the advice I had before the trip. The variety of flavors is amazing. So far I've had coconut, cherry, pistachio, berry, chocolate and peach. Yum!!!

Irene R - We were told that if you have a question ask an Italian, get three answers and take the average. Well, that is what we did to find out if a museum cafeteria was open in Romem three said "no" and two said "yes". The cafeteria was closed.

After visiting both the Basilica of St Francis and the Cathedral of St Clare in Assisi, Chuck told Sister Diane that he had a goal to add to their mission statement. Captured by such a profound statement, we all turned to learn what the suggestion was. Sister, in full earnest and sincerity, asked Chuck what it was. He replied that "she should have all the Sisters of CSA come to Assisi and put padding on all kneelers". It broke all of us, including Sister, as we burst into laughter.

Audrey, a first time traveler to Europe, had written us prior to the trip, saying that this being her initial trip she might be more inclined to move about with us when we got there. Well, on our final day in Assisi as we were returning to the hotel, I noticed her heading off by herself. I inquired if she needed us to go along, not wanting her thinking that we were abandoning her. She responded with confidence, "No, I'm ok. If I get lost all I need to do is go downhill. If I reach the parking lot, I know I missed the hotel and I'll go back." Now that is transformation into a confidant traveler!

And finally, on our last full day in Assisi, and only 5 days into the trip, we were heading to a "Church inside a Church" just 4 KM outside Assisi. When we were all there Valerie said "Let's go", meaning to the bus which sat in the parking lot outside the walls. Without hesitation they took off leaving us behind. Halfway down the hill and toward the archway of the city wall, it hit Valerie & I - we had another successful trip to record! Instead of waiting, uncertain of themselves, the group just took off and we knew they were now confident European travelers. Those are the "feel good" moments when we realize that we are doing our job well.

Cathedral Santa Maria in Siena, Italy

Wayne and the tour guide in Siena  
Cathedral Santa Maria - it had the most beautiful marble and mosaic flooring!
Cathedral Santa Maria - it had the most beautiful marble and mosaic flooring!

Piazza del Campo (main square) in Siena
Tuesday, April 24, 2012:
The quaint and very charming hotel in Assisi

CSA Sisters at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
CSA Sisters at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
The group in front of the 13th Century Basilica di Sa Francesco, which contains the sacred relics of St. Francis and beautiful frescos of his life
Monday, April 23, 2012:

Wow, how could this day surpass the others? It wasn't easy but "mission accomplished"!  We had a "hustle & bustle" day that began with our packing for our bus trip to Assisi for the next leg of the "Best of Italy Tour".  Before we could leave Rome, we first needed to conquer Rome, or at least make two more visits. 

In the morning we visited, explored and learned so much about the Colosseum. Let me say this (Wayne speaking), Rome never gets old. Every visit (our 4th) brings out new and interesting aspects of the site. Why? Because every guide has a unique approach to presenting that "same info", and today was no exception. We came away with  information we'd never heard before. This probably  debunks the concept of, "Oh I've been there already". It's like saying "I've been to The Nutcracker already" so you never return.  For example, today we learned that the proverbial "thumbs down" hand signal associated with the Colosseum, the crowd (or Emperor) not to exclude the Gladiators, was bogus! It never happened, except in American movies. In fact research shows that the "thumbs up" sign originated in Wisconsin of all places centuries later, in and associated with politics, like "We won" or "Way to go!". The gestures that were used was pointing to the throat or pointing to the stomach regarding what the crowd wanted the Gladiator to do, you use your imagination what they wanted from the person in the center of the Colosseum. A
s a side note, we also learned that there were only 2 subways in Rome. Others are being built but work and progress is slowed by the fact construction crews must be careful to not inadvertently destroy some artifact or other piece of history buried under the city. No matter what, our travelers enjoyed the experience and even had the thrill of climbing the steps leading from lower level to the top, at about a 45 degree angle, and we huffed & puffed our way to the top for a breathtaking view of the entire inside of the Colosseum, especially the gladiator preparation rooms now fully exposed (the floor never survived mother nature's hundreds of years). From this upper vantage point it was simply amazing. We then walked to and through The Forum. You could just visualize the houses and shops that existed so many years ago. All we could see were the remnants of once was a thriving community and meeting place for the Roman Community.

Exiting the Forum we bid farewell to our wonderful guide and now friend, Maria. We then had a 1 1/2 hours to "shop till you drop" or "eat till you drop" interlude until our bus arrived to take us to Assisi. Most chose eating but about 11 brave souls walked 259 steps, up & down, to a scenic overlook of our last glimpse of Rome. What a memory for those willing to stretch and challenge their calf muscles (which 259 steps have a tendency to do!)

We then gathered to depart Rome, yet anxious to board the bus and SLEEP! We arrived in Assisi in the mid afternoon in the middle of a thunderstorm. We walked uphill to our hotel. The thunderstorm proved to be but a blip on the inconvenience scale so once we were settled in our rooms, some travelers ventured out to explore Assisi on their own, some stayed in their rooms until dinner and others walked with Valerie & Wayne to the center of the city. The streets were steep but not insurmountable. After we finished our individual ventures, a total of 13 of our travelers met and ate in the hotel dining room, with about 6 joining us when they finished their adventure in Assisi.

Tomorrow we will meet our guide after breakfast and will have a walking tour with all the highlights of Assisi, which is also the birthplace of St. Francis. We'll also visit St. Clare's cathedral. Both St Francis & St Clare have an important link to Fond du lac's Sisters of St Agnes and we are here to enjoy every moment of it. Stay tuned!

Also, enjoy some photos from our morning touring the Colosseum in Rome, the Roman Forum and the Seven Hills Walking Tour...additional photos have been added to the Someday Travel Facebook page, as well...!

Seven Hills Walking Tour
"Someday Travelers" at the Colosseum in Rome


Wayne at the Roman Forum

Sunday, April 22, 2012:

We drove to Tivoli to view the Villa d'Este gardens. This villa was the home of a Cardinal who wanted to be Pope but his finances and influence diminished and he never fulfilled his dream. It is located on the outskirts of Rome and is known for its Renaissance architecture and absolutely breathtaking gardens. After viewing the Villa and gardens we had a couple of hours to eat and/or shop before departing for the Basilica of St Agnes Outside the Wall.

The Basilica is a 7th Century A.D. church and is not only noted for it's mosaics and as a shrine to the virgin martyr St Agnes, but also for the catacombs underneath. The Basilica is where the body of St Agnes is enshrined and revered by thousands. What a special time for all, particularly the Sisters of St Agnes & friends who are traveling with our group.

The day concluded with our travelers joining each other in different restaurants and places of joy to have their farewell dinner in Rome.

Tomorrow we will tour the Colosseum, the Roman Forum plus view the Mamertine Prison where tradition says the Apostle Paul was imprisoned. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church would say that St Peter was imprisoned there as well.

After our "last" lunch in Rome, we will continue our "Best of Italy"  journey with a drive  to Assisi where we will spend our next 2 nights.

So far the weather has been sunny! Keep your fingers crossed it stays  this way for the remainder of our trip!

On a side note - Valerie and Wayne's phones aren't working consistently, so there aren't any photos to post right now.  Hopefully Verizon will get the phones working again and we'll have pictures to share with you soon! 

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, April 21, 2012:
We had a fantastic prayerful sendoff  Thursday with a prayer for safety and love from Sister JoAnn and Sister Doris Klein. All flights connected without a problem  and we arrived in Rome, via Zurich, at 1:48 p.m. on April 20th. We transported to the hotel and had a free afternoon and evening. We had 3 different groupings doing different things. Two had a walking tour of the hotel area and both groups ending up at the same restaurant (right around the corner from the hotel), a fun place that Valerie & Wayne had recommended. We had 19 of our 25 travelers enjoy an evening of good food, excellent desserts, tremendous togetherness and lots & lots of laughter, and we were less than a 100 yards from our hotel!. (For those on Weight Watchers, we'll never tell.) But that's what "bonding" does to a group traveling together with Someday Travel, and it happened in the quickest time for a Someday Travel, one day! We had several travelers stop and thank us today for not only the trip but also the free time to rest, shop or experience Rome.

We began our 2nd day with a visit to the Vatican City where we experienced the Vatican Museum, the Sistine chapel, the Papal guards (always the photographer's delight) with all preceded with an informative background of the Sistine Chapel and a colorful and interesting description of the great artist, Michelangelo. What more can you say about this fantastic church with its hustle & bustle and excitement of the thousands of visitors we encountered?!  It was simply electrifying and as one traveler said to us, "You see the pictures on the TV and suddenly you are there!" What a great testimonial to traveling the world.

After these visits, we had lunch plus shopping opportunities. We walked (what a glorious experience) to the Spanish Steps, then Treva Fountain, then the Pantheon and ending up visiting the church with the head of St. Agnes, this one being located inside the walls of the Roman Catholic Church.

We returned to our hotel to enjoy an evening on our own. Some went to mass while others just relaxed and sought an environment fitting to the culture and style of living.

Tomorrow hopefully will be filled with an equal amount fun & excitement. We'll visit Tivoli and Villa d'Este Gardens. When we return we'll again have the freedom to be on our own.

Enjoy some photos from today!

St. Peter's Square/Vatican City


Heading into the Vatican

The Holy Door

Friday, April 20, 2012:

We arrived safely in Rome around 7 a.m. WI time....and the sun is out!

Thursday, April 19, 2012:

We are on our way!

We left Fond du Lac with a lovely blessing send-off by the Sisters of St. Agnes and arrived at Chicago O'Hare airport in time for dinner.  The group is terrific and we are excited to be on our way to Italy.   We hope all of you are excited for this great adventure, as well, and we look forward to making your Someday Travel Dreams come true!

Enjoy some photos from our first travel day below:

The entire group departing from the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes parking lot.
Jim and Ginny Gilmore with Wayne Graczyk

Travelers Rachel and Lisa Schneekloth and Barb

Boarding at Chicago O'Hare airport!

Susan and Barb at the Swiss Air counter

Italy with CSA 2012...April 14, 2012

OK, I am down to six pairs of shoes!  I can't help myself, having the right color and comfort is critical.  Actually I like to wear a non tying shoe through security, then I like a light slipper for the airplane ride, and then of course who knows we may want to go dancing on a beautiful night in Siena and what if I only have my clunky tennis shoes?  Granted I have not weighed my suit case yet so who know what will actually make it for the final cut.

On another note Sister Diane our CSA representative will be saying a blessing for us as we leave on this is great to know we will have a whole group of sisters thinking of us and praying for our safe travels each day, as well.  Four days and a wake up!!!  I just read a great travel article about the absolute "best" square to sit at and enjoy people watching in is where we are going - Siena's Il Campo.  I have been there, but it was a bit January so this will be a totally different experience and we are staying overnight in Siena so "we can sip a glass of 'vin santo' and watch the light bathe the red brick stone..." ~ Rick Steves. 


Opening Comments for The Best of Italy Blog - April 13, 2012:

The excitement begins to mount with preparations fully underway for our travelers, including Wayne & Valerie. If everyone is like us, we are all rushing to make final arrangements, i.e., what's the weather going to be like, what to pack, do we have international capabilities set in our phone, did I get Euros, etc. No matter, this has the feeling of a great trip and I have little doubt our travelers will have a fantastic & positive experience. We hope you will follow us with enthusiasm and interest.One other point. Please keep in mind, if you decide to call someone on the trip, we'll be 7 hours ahead of Midwest time so if you call at 8 p.m., you'll be waking someone up at 3 a.m.!!!

Wayne & Valerie Graczyk
Someday Travel Directors


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  2. Wayne and Val,
    Congratulations, you did it again!
    Thanks for leading the tour to Italy with a group of greatly diverse individuals. It felt so safe traveling, experiencing the varied cultures and activities, hearing other languages, seeing beautiful sceneries...I would say on a scale of 1-10, this experience has a value of 11 as an educational, cultural and self-knowledge tool.
    Grazi per quest' opportunità!

  3. Hey its Chris Brown from Italy, which places you've visited, do tell me,