Posted by: lettersfromrome | August 31, 2008

Road Trip















Dear Mom,

August 31, 2008

                        Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


I have arrived safely back in Rome after my month of studying the Italian language in Assisi.  Overall I really enjoyed my time in Assisi, it is a very peaceful place and I will miss being able to walk the streets in the evening.  Six hours a day of nothing but Italian class was a little intense but I am definitely leaving knowing more then when I arrived.  I still have a very long way to go though.  One of my favorite things about the experience of my month there was just being able to get to know some of my classmates from the NAC who were studying with me.  There are some really great guys that go to school here.  Despite how much I enjoyed my time in Assisi, I am very excited to have arrived back in Rome.  It is nice to no longer be living out of a suitcase and to be sitting in my own room again.



As I reflect back on my time the greatest memory I have from the last month had to be the road trip I took with some of my seminary brothers.  Because of our Blessed Mother’s feast day on August 15th, we had a three day weekend.  We drove over 1,200 kilometers in three days!  It was great, we did not really have a plan other then we knew we wanted to end up in Milan at some point.  The course we ended up taking went like this: Assisi to Florence, Florence to Bologna, Bologna to Milan, Milan to Genoa, Genoa to Pisa, and then from Pisa back to Assisi.  And along the way we drove through some of the most beautiful Italian countryside I have ever seen in my life.  Just so beautiful words would not do it justice; at one point I was upset that I had left my camera in the trunk of the car because everything around me was just so gorgeous.



We had gotten the car on Thursday night in Perugia and the plan was to leave first thing Friday morning.  I was not sure if we were going to have the opportunity to go to Mass during the day so I woke up and went to Mass before we left.  We all met to hit the road around 8 in the morning.  The first place we visited was Florence (or Firenze as we Italians refer to it as).



Not all of us had been to Mass yet so we were able to go to Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence.  Since I had already been to Mass I walked along the side of the Duomo to find a little area to pray quietly by myself for a while.  I ended up encountering an elderly priest while I was there and asked if he would hear my confession.  He agreed and after my confession he asked me if I was a seminarian.  I told him that I was and then we talked for a little while.  He was celebrating 50 years of being a priest that year, his name is Fr. Alexander.  He was a very joyful and peaceful man.  One of my favorite parts about the Duomo itself is probably the dome which has this huge painting of the Last Judgment on it.


We spent a few hours walking around Florence and then ate lunch there before leaving.  Lunch consisted of sandwiches and carrots out of the trunk of our car with bread and meat we had got in Assisi the day before.  We had bought them in bulk so it was interesting cutting it up with just a little pocket knife.  Overall it was a very economical and satisfying meal.


From there it was back on the road as we went from Florence to Bologna.  In Bologna I visited the Basilica of San Petronio which is located in the Piazza Maggiore.  It is a really big church; I think the fifth largest in the world actually.  But it felt more like a tourist museum inside rather then a house of God.  I much preferred and spent more of my time in Bologna in the Basilica of San Domenico.


The Basilica of San Domenico has the remains of Saint Dominic there.  When St. Dominic was studying to be a priest in Spain the country was struck with a terrible famine.  In reaction to this Dominic gave away all his money and sold everything he owned, including his valuable books.  When one of his companions noticed what he had done Dominic replied, “Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?”  Later, our Blessed Mother entrusted the Rosary to St. Dominic.



I was able to spend a good amount of time in St. Dominic’s chapel, asking for his intercession.  In the chapel there is the painting of St. Dominic’s Glory by Guido Reni painted in the early 1600’s.  Most of the remains of St. Dominic are in the sarcophagus while his head is preserved in this beautiful gold reliquary at the back of the monument.



After spending a few hours exploring Bologna we decided to head to Milan in order to get there before dark.  We arrived in Milan that night and went to check into this cheap little hostel.  I am convinced that I am not able to go anywhere without forgetting something important.  I had forgotten to pack a photocopy of my passport, which is necessary to check into a hostel.  I also had emptied out my wallet when I was in Rome and did not have my driver’s license or really any actual form of identification on me (and yes mom, I can hear you screaming at me now). 


Apparently having identification is an important thing in Italy, especially when you want to stay in a cheap hostel.  Who knew?  The guy at the desk was telling me that a lot of people in the mafia will travel around and will try and stay in hostels without using their passports to avoid the police.  So the police will frequently stop by checking hostels for who is staying there.  Anyway, the experience taught me a valuable lesson I would like to pass on.



If you find yourself somewhere in Europe, and forgot every possible form of identification, this is what you do.  You simply get a special slip of paper from the hostel you wish to stay at and then go to the local police station and explain what happened.  The police take one look at you, see you are a stupid American kid who can barely explain your situation in Italian, and is obviously not a member of the mafia.  They then stamp that slip of paper about a hundred times with ten different stamps and presto, you are now able to stay at the desired hostel.



After checking into the hostel, we went for a walk to explore Milan some.  The weather was so much cooler in Milan then an Assisi, it felt great outside.  So we are just walking through Milan, when all of a sudden we come up on the Duomo di Milano, the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world.  I sat there in the Piazza del Duomo for a little while, just taking it all in.  It was just a surreal feeling and I said to myself, ‘I am in Milan right now.’  The whole thing just did not seem real.


I had one of my best nights sleep since arriving in Italy that night, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was so far north and the temperature was much cooler then the heat of Rome and Assisi.





We spent all day Saturday in Milan and there was plenty to explore.  Milan is very well known as being one of the world’s capitals for design and fashion.  I like to think that I fit in very well there, wearing my free Life-Teen t-shirt and jeans.  There were a lot of stores there where everything was super expensive; the best way to describe it would be to say that I was very much like Julia Roberts in that movie Pretty Woman.



I went back to the Duomo and was able to explore it more too.  You are able to go on the roof of it, no joke.  It was incredible.  There are so many marble statues everywhere you look, you could probably spend a week there and still not get through it all.


While in Milan I also explored the Castello Sforzesco, a fourteenth century castle which was severely damaged as a result of the allied bombardment of Milan in 1943.  The castle currently houses a museum and several art gallery collections.


That afternoon I went back to the Duomo for Mass.  After Mass we all went to dinner at this nice little pizzeria, it was affordable and delicious.  What more could a person ask for?



We woke up early Sunday morning, checked out of our cozy hostel and hit the road again.  This leg of the trip was Milan to Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.  Some of the best experiences from the trip happened while in the car.  Great things just tend to happen when you mix Red Bull with gummy bears.  Throughout the entire trip while in the car I had a very important job; I sat in the front seat, which meant I was in charge of both navigation and musical entertainment.  It was a great deal of responsibility, but I was up for the task.



Now, Italian radio can get old very quickly and when you are spending so many hours in a car and it is important to keep morale up.  So early on in the trip, at one of the truck stops I made one of the best decisions I have made as of yet in my life.  I chose to buy two cheap three CD sets of some of the greatest American music of all time.  Everything from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash, it was all there.


At one point we heard a great song and someone wanted to listen to it again.  And then someone else made the genius comment that we should see how many times we can listen to the same song in a row.  As a result we listened to Jeannie C. Riley sing Harper Valley PTA about 45 times before I was threatened with my life.  I am not joking at all, and I think I need to state this again so it is perfectly clear: we listened to the song Harper Valley PTA around 45 times in a row.



After much singing, and much contemplation on Harper Valley widowed wives, we arrived from Milan to Genoa.  If you are looking at a map of Italy, Genoa is located sort of in the armpit area.  Do not let my description fool you, Genoa is a port city and very beautiful.  When we got to Genoa we went to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Lawrence; yet another amazing church.  After Mass we decided to try out some of Genoa’s famous salami and got some sandwiches which we ate by the pier.


After exploring Genoa for a while we decided to head for Pisa.  Pisa is of course famous for that leaning tower.  So we checked out the Leaning Tower of Pisa for a little while.  After that we decided to head to the beach.  The beach in Pisa is different then a normal type of beach, instead of sand they just have a bunch of rocks.  But the water was great and I was able to go swimming for a while.  The beach was an impromptu thing so I went swimming in my jeans.  I think the Italians thought that was a strange thing to do, but I enjoyed the water nonetheless.



After a few hours swimming and sitting out by the water, we decided to catch a late dinner.  So we walked along the shore and found a nice looking seafood restaurant.  This part of the story is a little embarrassing, but I feel I should share it anyway.  Apparently after all that time studying Italian, I have not learned anything important, because I thought I ordered grilled shrimp with pasta.  That sounds pretty good doesn’t it, a nice big plate of pasta with grilled shrimp mixed in it?  Well you can imagine the look on my face when I was brought out a plate with nothing but four giant crawfish on it.  At least now I know one thing NOT to order next time I am in an Italian seafood restaurant.



We ended up leaving Pisa fairly late, and the drive from Pisa back to Assisi was a fun one.  We arrived back home in Assisi around one in the morning, so you can imagine how great Italian class was the next day.  But looking back on it all, it was a really great trip; very relaxing and I was able to see so much of Italy and get to know some of my classmates really well.


I am back in Rome now for orientation.  It is going well so far and great to be back in Rome.  Today I get to hang out with the Holy Father at Castelgandolfo.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday if I do say so myself.



St. Dominic,

Pray for us.


With Love from Rome,

Your Son



  1. haha…. i loved the story about the police station, and ur ingenious idea about the CD’s…. Your friends seem pretty tolerant of your antics… had i been there your life would have been threatened after only 5 or 10 repitions of that song! My question is how long did u walk around in soaking wet jeans?

  2. I’m getting my passport ordered this week. I am either coming to Rome to visit you if you have time off to travel… or Anywhere south of Texas. Including s. America. IT all depends on whether or not I have a traveling companion or not. Take care. I am going on a date tonight. I we spoke for 1 and a half hours last night, I asked if she wanted to get coffe tomorow (today). She said yes but she was all coffeed out so she asked if we could get a beer instead.
    Pretty cool.

  3. Dang son, you’re getting downright skinny. Lost a little weight trotting the Italian streets?

  4. Talked to your mom tonight and she told me to check out your blog. You’re definitely doing a better job of communicating than your counterpart! Looks like things are going great…I really enjoyed reading about your adventures. Tell my Adam to update his blog. Keeping you in my prayers.

    Mary Haake

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