Experiencing Italy with 35 like-minded individuals was a true gift. I can see why many of my fellow travelers were making the trip for the second, third or even fourth time. For some, the trip was an opportunity to visit family while for others like myself, it was a chance to see the many beautiful cities we had heard about throughout our lives.
To me, the most enriching and rewarding part of the trip was our “guida’ guide Simonetta Ferramosca, for her third trip guiding a Veneti nel Mondo excursion. In 2009 my son and I visited Rome and not once did we use the services of a guide. Without a guide pointing out historical facts—each church was just another historic building with its frescoes, murals, statues, and relics. By comparison with Simonetta as our guide we were informed on the history of the churches we visited, their architecture, their history, their religious ties, their frescoes and statues, and their reconstruction due to the ravages of war or fire or earthquake. Also, the same was true for every town and museum we visited. If you take a trip anywhere—either in the United States or out of country—the services of a knowledgeable guide is well-worth the expense for an enhanced experience.
The trip went as planned with only two exceptions due to weather issues. We were scheduled to visit the West Coast of Italy’s Tuscany Region and the Cinque Terre and then Asiago when we reached Bassano Del Grappa. However, there were storm alert warnings and all traffic was prohibited. For me, that was a stroke of luck as we substituted a visited to Carrara and Massimo. As many of us are aware, thanks to Fr. Nalin’s passion for Carrara marble, St. Anthony’s Church was completely Carrara marble in its interior. The walls are now covered by sound enhancing tiles but under those tiles lay walls of Carrara marble tiles. Therefore, all I’ve heard about is Carrara Marble—visiting there certainly made me a happy traveler.
And now for the rest of our journey! We travelled well as a group with what I imagine is the usual number of people getting along and those not so much. However, by the end of the trip no one cared because we became a unit—assisting each other as necessary as though in a family unit. (You can’t tell me you love all your brothers and sisters equally!)
Our hotels were of a very good quality—some better than others. Unfortunately, accommodations for those that had single rooms didn’t quite measure up too often. However, John Toniolo and I roomed together without incident and had very nice rooms throughout. The most interesting event of our being roommates occurred in Bologna at the Tre Vecchi Hotel. John had gone up to our room before me and when I entered the room he was resting on a twin bed up against a wall while leaving the two twin beds sharing a single headboard to me. I didn’t immediately grasp his reasoning until I realized we apparently had the honeymoon suite because the bath towels had been shaped into a heart combining the two twin beds—John wanted nothing to do with that matrimonial bed even after I moved the two beds a foot and half apart.
We visited Montecatini, Pisa, Lucca, Isla Elba, Assisi, Siena, Perugia, San Gimignano (my favorite name to say), Lake Como, Stresa, Lake Maggiore, and the Borromean Islands: Isola Bella and Isola Madre, Bassano Del Grappa, Lake Garda, Asiago, and Marostica (where the chess game with human pieces is played every two years). I myself visited the holy basilica of our St. Anthony of Padua to pray at his relic. This was a very aggressive tour which was a great introduction to the country of Italy which will now allow me to return to a particular city or town for extended stays with limited travelling.
The fact that we spent time visiting towns and cities that were built around the 15th or 16th century made each place unique and remarkable, in their own way. We visited many plazas that had statues, obelisks, and architecture of historical significance. Many of the streets were narrow and crowded with tourists—this did not stop the local citizenry from driving down the streets. We determined that wider streets weren’t necessary when the roads were built—after all how much space does a chariot take?
The pavement is unpredictably uneven which requires one to not only look up at the beautiful art and architecture but also looking down to watch your step. Unfortunately, this issue was cause for a number of people that I liked to call our “angeli caduti” our ‘fallen angels.” We had sprained ankles, sore shoulders, swollen feet/legs, and even a couple of severe cuts.
Dining was fantastic and we were too busy eating and drinking to take photos of the food. For me the three times we were served risotto were very memorable because I haven’t had good risotto since my mother passed away in the 1970’s. When you have a lunch and dinner that includes red or white wine—as much as you desire—you’re not only dealing with jet lag when you get home but with having to reverse your desire for wine at every meal.
A number of times we took ferry boats to various islands and were allowed free time to explore or shop. Some people cut their time to return to the ferry boat very close to its leaving. This made for tense moments as our guide Simonetta had to nervously wait for those persons to come before the ferry had to leave. I flew past her as she waited on the dock, ran up the three flights of stairs and got inside with two minutes to spare—a moment of great concern for a number of people including the ship’s crew—but boy—I proved I can run under pressure. Yes, I was that person!
There were some real shoppers in our travel ‘family’ that made the most of their time. Mary Pizzato lived up to expectations as ‘the’ shopper who knew where to go and who to see. When one of the shopkeepers found out her customers were with the Veneti group, she asked about Mary who hadn’t been there yet but her reputation from previous visits to Italy preceded her.
Gloria Rosenthal and Louise Lavarda rekindled an old acquaintanceship which began when they both attended Chicago’s Pullman Tech High School. They spent much quality time together while dining and touring. Coincidentally, they both spent more time in Italy after the tour group departed. Louise visited her family and friends which she has visited often throughout the years. Unfortunately, Gloria became ill and spent her extra time in the hospital before returning to Chicago to complete her recovery.
No one in the entire group had any unfortunate incidents with pickpockets, theft, or lost luggage. Our bus drivers, Fabiano, Luigi, and Carlo were all very careful in keeping track of our luggage and of us and our schedule. And let me tell you how skilled they were in every way possible in negotiating roads obviously made for horse carts. By the way, when we first arrived, I was very excited to hear Simonetta announce: “We are waiting for the Pullman!’ That’s right! If you are providing the best possible mode of transportation it is called a “Pullman” because that is the highest standard of travel possible—definitely making me a very proud Pullman resident.
The consensus is that Lago Maggiore is a better place to visit than the overhyped and overcrowded Lago di Como. The Borromean Island Isola Bella is a wonder to behold with a 197 room palace with gardens topped off by the fact that if the flag is flying the Boromeo family is present and tourists aren’t allowed complete access to the island. The beautiful Princess Beatrice Borromeo wed Prince Pierre Casiraghi, grandson of Prince Albert of Monaco, on August 1 so our timing was fortunate. The family is most proud of St. Charles Borromeo who was the patron of the Scalabrinian Order of priests which founded our St. Anthony’s in Kensington. There are beautiful terraced gardens to visit or an outdoor garden at the front of the terrace. I didn’t go on that garden walk which enabled me to meet an interesting woman “Maria di Czechoslovakia.” She was very talkative when she realized I was an American from Chicago. So much so, that she gave me her photo and told me to keep it close to my heart which is where she put my business card—inside her top and on her heart. Maria’s parting words were to the point: “Scribense me!” That was worth a couple of days of conversation amongst the group.
I’ve written way more than I normally do and have hardly scratched the surface of the entire journey. I am sure I will have a few more things to say once I sort and edit the 3,000 photos I took to create an exhibit, or the extra suitcase I had to buy for my souvenirs.
Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or email@example.com