Sunday, January 4, 2009

Honeymoon in Europe!

(Mary Clare Writing) To start off our "Year in Review" is the first adventure we had together: travelling France and Italy on our honeymoon.

We started out in Paris. This might have been our favorite stop. The churches were gorgeous and the food was great. Dan discovered fondue and frites w/ mayo. I was a fan of the baguettes, crepes and pan au chocolat. As for the sights though, I think we both liked Sacre Coeur the best (and now they have a tram that takes you to the more endless steps!). It was only a few blocks from our hotel, so we got to go a few times. Even in January there was a line for the Eiffel Tower and we couldn't go all the way to the very top. We took a night cruise on the Seine which was fun but freezing. At the Louvre, we waited around until we got the Friday night discount ;) It was really impressive. Made the Met look shabby. Notre Dame was great too and still decked out for Christmas. Dan loved the church of St. Etienne, located behind the Pantheon, though he got scared when he thought he lost me. I sat in one of the high-backed pews in the choir and dozed off...

Next stop was Florence, reached via overnight train (an experience about which Dan will have nothing good to say). The city is pretty small, so you can walk everywhere. Though when we ventured across the Arno river to a hill overlooking the city, we discovered that the bus strike was very inconvenient. Gelato quickly became a favorite of Dan's and a twice daily staple. The Duomo was amazing, though they charge at least 6 Euro for admission into all the cool parts (i.e. the baptistry, the cupola, the tower). Our favorite stop was the Uffizi; around every corner is a masterpiece. Dan had been a whiz with the video camera all trip, but here he got yelled at and had to put it away. Is that what the picture of the camera with a line through it meant?? The Ponte Vecchio over the river at night was very charming, plus we were basically alone... one of the benefits of being there in January. I can imagine that this place _teems_ with tourists in the summer. I guess they can't deal with the frequent grey skies and rain...

Next we were off to Rome. After our last train experience, we decided to upgrade our Eurail pass to the fast train, which took about an hour and a half. We first met with Fr. Aguilar, a great Legionary priest who showed us around their university and gave us a papal blessing he had ordered and tickets as sposi novelli ("newly married") to the papal audience. One morning he also said Mass for us in a crypt chapel near the tomb of JPII in St. Peter's and gave us a tour. We got to go near the sacristy and see all the priests and altar boys bustling about. We were really overwhelmed by his generosity. A few of the big highlights: The papal audience where we didn't get to "meet" Pope Benedict or give him our letter about our Latin Mass wedding, but he came close and we took lots of video and I think he waved at us. We also had arranged for a tour of the necropolis beneath St. Peter's. In these excavations they've done since WWII, they found the tomb of St. Peter as well as an entire ancient Roman necropolis with these house-like structures for the dead. (Constantine just had it covered over with dirt when he had the first St. Peter's built). Later we did a tour of the Vatican Museums, which was my favorite of all the museums we saw. The Sistene Chapel is awe-inspiring.

On our last day in Rome we took a day trip to Assisi. The city is so medieval-looking. I loved the basilica of my patroness, Santa's pink. Much of the interior artwork has been destroyed by earthquakes. I got to see her incorrupt body, as well as the habits of her and St. Francis. St. Francis was _tiny_. Outside the basilica of San Francesco is the best Nativity scene we have ever seen. It's life size, extensive, detailed and nicely lit. It only makes sense, since St. Francis came up with the idea.

Finally, we took a 1/2 hour plane ride to Palermo. Coming up to the airport, which is right on the coast, it's so beautiful, it made me wonder why my ancestors ever left. It's sunny, there are palm trees and the weather in January hardly went below 60! The natives were all bundled up, but Dan and I had to take off our coats. We went to Sunday Mass at the Palermo cathedral and were struck by how much all the old nonnas look exactly like the old Italian ladies in Brooklyn and Queens. We were most impressed by the cathedral of Monreale. The interior is covered in gold mosaics. It has a Byzantine feel, but I believe it was started by the Normans. We didn't get to see much after this since Dan got sick. We did have the best pizza in the world at this place that uses a wood burning oven. As for why the ancestors left...I figured it out once we got on the ground. Though beautiful, Sicily, at least what we saw, is slightly lawless. Everyone from cabbies to restaurants tries to (and does) rip you off. People drive on the sidewalks when there's traffic. They also park on the sidewalks and in crosswalks. They also drive crazily. There are stray dogs about and you don't have to pay on the bus, which runs terribly, because the driver doesn't care and no one checks. They have also managed to keep the Muslim and African immigrants, that we saw everywhere else in Europe, out. Go figure. Soon enough we were back in Rome and then on our way back home!

Looking back, it seems unreal. All in all, we had a great trip. Here are some of our pics:

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