Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Christmas in Italy: Padua

Day One of our Italy we go!
We started this trip like most of our trips.  First we hopped on a plane from Adana to Istanbul.  Once we reached Istanbul, we smiled uncomfortably at the passport control man at the airport as he crossly examined our collection of passport stamps ("They've been to Israel and Greece in the past few months?  Grrr...") and then watched as he reluctantly lowered the big, heavy stamp onto our passports once again.  Then it's airport security, change a diaper, and on the plane to Italy!

We landed at the Bergamo airport, near the city of Milan.  After grabbing our bags and a couple of proscuito and cheese sandwiches to go, we started our real adventure: public transportation in Italy.  On this trip, we relied almost completely on public transportation.  Most of the time, it was a thrilling and empowering experience; being able to dive right into a culture and travel as the locals do.  A few times, it made my stomach flutter with nervousness.  But it always worked out.  And it proved to be an incredible experience of God's providencial care for us.  We felt His guiding hand every step of the way. 

Public transportation mission #1:  take a public bus from the airport to the train station. 
We found our bus stop outside of the airport (with a little help from an airport employee) and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, we found another bus that was headed for the train station.  Perfect.  The bus was packed full, so I sat in the back in between two Italian men while Dan and Peter were smooshed somewhere in the middle.  No problem, should be a short ride.  Or so we thought.  Almost an hour later, we did indeed arrive at a train station.  We ended up at the Milan station rather than the Bergamo station.  We had to backtrack a little, but not too bad for our first day.

Next, we found our way around the big Milan train station.  Intimidating.  It seemed as if everyone else in the bustling crowds of people knew exactly what to do and where to go, and we felt completely lost.  We found a kiosk and bought some tickets.  A homeless man laughed at us while we made the purchase (which didn't exactly instill confidence).  Then, we wandered until we found someone official looking to help us find our train platform.  She ended up being grumpy and telling us the wrong platform, but we figured it out and ended up safely on our train to Padua.  Phew!  We rode several hours to Padua, then took a taxi to our hotel.  It had been a long day of travel!

We awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to go!  After a cappuccino and a delicious breakfast, we walked to the bus station to start our touring.  We waited a bit for a bus until we realized that you have to step out into traffic and hail the bus in order for it to stop.  Just standing at the bus stop didn't do the trick.  No wonder those buses passed us!  It also took us awhile to figure out how to buy tickets, the little machine was broken, so we bought them from the driver. 

Our first stop was the Basilica of Saint Justina, dedicated to a Roman woman who was martyred in Padua. 

Inside of the church were the relics of Saint Matthias the Apostle.  We had also seen some of his relics in Germany and would soon see his relics in Rome as well. 

We next saw the high altar of the Basilica.  Saint Justina's relics are held in a reliquary behind this altar. 

And next, we saw the tomb of Saint Luke the Evangelist!  Saint Luke wrote a Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  What an incredible experience to be right next to one of the Gospel writers!  Saint Luke was also an artist.  It is believed that the painting of Mary above his tomb was painted by Saint Luke!  In the picture below, Peter is examining an icon of Saint Luke in his hands. 

After a busy morning, we stopped at a pizzeria! was so delicious!  They had 41different kinds of pizza!  The most exotic pizza on the menu was horsemeat.  Neither of us were feeling that brave.  Dan had an anchovie pizza and I had sausage.  Perfecto!  The crust was so thin and the toppings so fresh!  The perfect lunch!

After lunch, we strolled through the beautiful town square.  We enjoyed browsing through the little treasures at a local flea market in the square.  Peter chased pigeons, got his pants and mittens muddy, and enjoyed being out of the stroller. 

Our final stop for the day was at the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua.  Saint Anthony was a holy Franciscan who was famous for his inspiring preaching and many miracles.  The inside of the church was breathtaking.  Saint Anthony's tomb is located inside of the church, surrounded by crutches, letters, and other proofs of miracles God has performed through his intercession.  Inside of the church is also Saint Anthony's incorrupt tongue and jaw bone!  When Saint Anthony was being considered for canonization, they discovered that his tongue and jaw bone had never decayed!  A miracle God performed to show that his words and preaching honored God during his lifetime.  It was incredible to see!

We stopped at a unique and beautiful sculpture in the courtyard by the basilica.  It shows that Saint Anthony's prayers lead us to Christ.  Holding Saint Anthony's right hand is Little Jesus, holding his left hand is little Peter.  : )

Another one of the beautiful things about St. Anthony's Church was the number of people who came to Sunday Evening Mass.  One of the things we've always heard about churches in Europe is "they're always empty" or "Europeans don't attend church anymore."  St. Anthony's Basilica was PACKED with faithful Catholics who had come together for Mass to share in the Eucharist.  We were thrilled to see all the faithful and prayed for the success of the Church in Europe for the rest of our trip.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Christmas in Italy

Oh, Italy.  How we love you.
We love the breathtaking scenery.  We love the food.  We love the wine.  We love the Catholic culture and splendid churches around every corner.  We just love Italy.

This Christmas, we spent an unforgettable 10 days traveling across Italy.  We flew into Milan and hopped on a train to Padua.  Our next train took us to the magical city of Venice.  Then, we rode by train to Florence.  We then picked up a rental car and traveled to Pisa and Assisi.  Our final train took us to Rome, where we attended Christmas Eve Midnight Mass with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.  We will try to squeeze every wonderful detail of our experiences in Italy into future blogs, one city at a time. 

Here's a little preview of our trip...

Mmmm....Italian food.  Almost every dinner we ate consisted of glorious, beautiful pasta...

....and more pasta....

...and more pasta!

We balanced out our carb-fest with a daily dose of Italian cappacinnos!  Our adorable Italian hotels made us fresh cappacinnos every morning.  Those Italians know how to do coffee!

We traveled almost everywhere by train.  We loved the train system in Italy.  It's user-friendly, quick, and much more fun than a rental car!  Peter is a huge fan of Thomas the Train books right now, so riding on the trains was a thrill for him!  We all had a wonderful time! 

"Off we go!  Where will our next adventure take us?"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Toddler Bowling (It can be done!)

Several months ago, a friend of mine proposed a playgroup idea.  "Let's try the bowling alley!" she boldly announced.  I was a little unsure of the idea.  I couldn't see how multiple toddlers running around on slippery floors with 6 lb balls in their hands could end up being a positive experience.  However, when you live on a teeny tiny military base in the Middle East with limited activities, you're willing to try anything!  So we tried it!  A group of brave, bold moms brought about 10 toddlers to the bowling alley for a morning playdate.  The result: absolute success!  Sure, they needed lots of help and supervision, but the bowling alley proved to be fairly kid-friendly.  They supplied bumpers in the lanes and metal ramps to help kids push the balls.  Peter and his friends had a blast! 

Our successful bowling adventure started something.  Since then, we've returned as a family to bowl (How fun!  I hadn't bowled since high school!) and several of Peter's friends have had bowling birthday parties!  Every time we go with Peter, he is on cloud 9.  He takes such joy in rolling the big ball down the lane.  It's precious. 

When Peter bowls with Daddy, he skips the child ramp and has Daddy help instead.  It is so sweet to see them heave the heavy ball down the lane and then watch in anticipation as it rolls to the pins. : )

After the ball hits the pins, Peter yells joyfully, jumps, and claps...regardless of how many pins are hit.  Pure Happiness.

He then races back to retreive his ball (which usually startles him a bit when it pops up). 

Do you remember how I mentioned that I hadn't bowled since high school?  It looks like Mommy needs to lace up her bowling shoes more often and practice!