Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food

From the title, you might surmise that I have had a really good Monday! However, the reality is that I felt drawn back to the travel journal I am creating, after the recent trip to Italy. As I wrote about previously, I didn’t have time to journal the way I thought I would, during the trip. Instead, I decided to journal about the experience after the fact. 

I am appreciating how the acts of sketching and writing are allowing memories to surface. Like bubbles, they rise up and pop, surprising me and making me smile. 


On day two of our tour, we left Rome, and entered Tuscany. We stopped at the little medieval village of Lucca for lunch, and later enjoyed a wonderful tour and five course meal at a vineyard. As I flipped through photos on my phone today, I felt inspired to capture Dayan’s first Italian pizza in a sketch. I also drew the bell tower of Lucca, with the trees growing at the top, creating the illusion of hair. 

Although I would not learn about the significance of Italy’s bell towers until later in the trip, Lucca’s towers were the first to catch our attention and our interest. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
We capped off our day at Fattoria Il Poggio, a Tuscan farm featuring vineyards and olive groves. What a magical evening. Our group dined al fresco, at long beautifully set tables under twinkling white lights. The wine and the food flowed freely. I learned that night that I would be fine, eating plant based in Italy. The food was marvelous. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
As I wrote in my journal, I realized the true magic that wove itself through the evening involved relationships. That night, over a long and delightful dinner, strangers became family. Perhaps because of the wine, or the music, or the incredible beauty that surrounded us, 43 people bypassed the acquaintance and friendship stages and connected on deeper levels. 

We laughed, we sang, we danced, we dined on amazing local foods and drank wines created right there at the vineyard. We fell in love with Italy and ourselves and each other. 

The memories from that night warmed my heart and made me smile as I wrote in my journal. 

And then they jostled another memory, that sent me searching for a piece of paper. 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food
My family! My Globus family! Judy and Chelsea and Hilda, Norm and Rohini… We all wrote our names and email addresses on a piece of paper labeled “Traveling Companions”. Let’s all stay in touch, we said. I’ll email you, I promised. 

I have not contacted my traveling companions, my new family, since I have been home. I found my paper with their names and email addresses. Perhaps this is why I was drawn to journal today. Perhaps this memory needed to surface. Regardless, I am grateful for the reminder that this day of the trip was full of so many good things, including gaining 41 new family members. 

I will begin emailing them tonight. It is time to catch up with my family! 

Love, Laughter, Wine & Good Food

Cogli l’Attimo

It has been a month since since my daughter, grandson and I returned from Italy. I still think about that wonderful experience every day. Tonight’s creative project, a piece I called a travel keepsake, was inspired by a phrase our tour director, Fabiola, shared with us on our last day together. 

Cogli l’Attimo. 

Cogli l'Attimo

Cogli l’Attimo is the Italian equivalent of Seize the Day. I looked up the literal translation. The phrase translates as “catch the moment”. When she shared the words with us on the bus, Fabi gave the meaning of “pick up the moment”.

I like that. Catch the moment, or pick up the moment, implies a couple of things. 

These moments that tick by, one by one, can be elusive if I am not aware of them. It is so easy for the mind to swing between the past, that is unchangeable, to the future, that is unknown. Dwelling in either wastes energy and prevents me from picking up the present moment and enjoying what is unfolding now. Catching the moment shifts my attention, bringing awareness to the present. 

And the phrase suggests that I have a choice. Catch, and pick up, are actions words. I can choose to bring my awareness to the present moment and I can choose to keep it there. When I pick something up, I examine it more closely, looking at the details. Or I put the object away…put it where it belongs. I like that thought too. Moments tucked away become memories. 

Cogli l'Attimo
Tonight’s artistic project was about picking up a moment, and creating a keepsake, a visual memory. Using the vintage encyclopedias, I removed a map of Italy, to use as a template , and a page of text about the country. I traced the outline of the country on white paper, and after cutting out my templates, traced the map on the page of text. 

After cutting around the second set of tracings, I glued my new map of Italy onto a cream colored background paper, trimmed to fit into a vintage metal frame. I hand lettered the words Cogli l’Attimo across the map, and colored them in with a black prismacolor pencil. 

Cogli l'Attimo

This was a simple project, with deep meaning for me. I displayed the framed artwork with a little color print from the tiny Cinque Terre village of Monterosso, and a cute bowl from San Gimignano that was a gift from our wise director, Fabiola. 

The grouping captures a moment, reminding me of the Italy trip and reminding me of the importance of cogli l’attimo. 

I also remember that as Fabi was talking about cogli l’attimo, I was in and out of paying attention. An email had come into my phone that I was responding to, distracting me from the wisdom being offered. That email could have waited. I am glad that my daughter Elissa was giving her full attention to Fabi and filled in the narrative for me later. 

I am grateful for this phrase. Let go of the past, including the self reproach I feel that I almost missed the sharing of the Italian expression. And let the future unfold. It is my choice. Catch the moment…now. 

Cogli l’Attimo. 

Cogli l'Attimo

The Pilgrimage

On our last day of travel in Italy, as we journeyed back to Rome where our adventure had begun, Fabi our tour director shared a story. She directed our attention out the bus windows to a bell tower in the distance. 

Long ago, she said, pilgrims made their way each year to Rome. Most were on foot. As they traveled, they watched for the bell towers in each village or town to appear. Sighting a tower meant they were close to food and water and shelter. The bell towers became a way of tracking their journey. They knew how far they had come. And they knew how far they still had to go, as they noted the towers. 

The Pilgrimage
I was captivated by Fabi’s tale of pilgrims on a journey. We were traveling to Rome as well, by bus, thankfully, rather than on foot. However, I began to watch for the bell towers as we rolled along, tracking our pilgrimage.

The Pilgrimage          A bell tower in Lucca. 

The Pilgrimage Perhaps the most famous bell tower in the world, the leaning tower of Pisa. 

I realized our Italian journey over the last 11 days could be marked by bell towers also. I had taken pictures of the towers in each city, town or tiny village, without understanding their significance at the time. Most of the towns had more than one bell tower. Previously associated with certain wealthy families in the region, the height of the tower indicated the importance of the family. 

The Pilgrimage            Siena bell tower

The Pilgrimage San Gimignano bell tower in the distance

The villages’ towers were often near the center of the towns, in piazzas. Each one was uniquely different, ancient, and often still in use with working bells. Elissa and Dayan climbed a couple of them, trudging up hundreds of worn steps, rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views at the top. 

I thought about how pertinent the pilgrimage story was to our Italian journey, but also how significant to my life journey as well. 

The Pilgrimage             Florence bell tower

The Pilgrimage         Verona bell tower. 

The word pilgrimage means a pilgrim’s journey, usually toward a holy city, such as Rome. Pilgrim came from the Latin word peregrinus meaning foreign or foreigner. As I discovered during my Year of Journeys two years ago, journey literally means the distance one can travel in a day. 

Pilgrimage then means the distance a foreigner can go in one day, day after day. Or from bell tower to bell tower. The deeper meaning became apparent to me. I am a pilgrim, a foreigner, on a daily trek. In Italy I was a foreigner. And here on the playground that is Earth, I am a foreigner too. My ultimate destination isn’t Rome, or Edinburgh, or any earthly city. It will be a return to the Divine, a return to pure Love. 

The Pilgrimage              Venice bell tower

The Pilgrimage         Burano bell tower. It was leaning too. 

For now though, I travel…to amazing places around the world, and through life. I mark my passage by the events that happen, times of growth or upheaval, the symbolic bell towers showing me how far I have come and how far I still have to go. 

On my journey, I have amazing companions who are traveling alongside. Some have been with me   throughout my lifetime, some walked with me for a short time only. All teach me something about who I am and the journey I am on. 

The Pilgrimage My family in Italy. 

During my time in Italy, I was surrounded by traveling companions. We started off as strangers, except for my daughter and grandson of course. By journey’s end we had become family, a family whose members came from across the globe. Our guides for this part of the journey were a quiet and exceedingly charming man called Luciano, whose driving skills enabled our pilgrimage, and a wise, joyful woman named Fabiola, who introduced us to Italy and deeper aspects of life. 

Like the long ago pilgrims, moving from bell tower to bell tower, we arrived at last in Rome. But that bustling city was not our resting place. Rather it launched us all abroad to continue finding our way in the world. I am so grateful for my Italian travels and the impact it has had on my life and on my journey. 

Onward I go, to the next bell tower. 

The Pilgrimage

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, touring Italy, was how much I enjoyed visiting the churches in that country. I had the thought, early on, that if you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all. And there are many to see. Every city, every tiny village, has at its heart a mighty cathedral or basilica. But how wrong I was in thinking they would be the same, or even similar. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty
The first thing I learned from our tour guide is that the word “cathedral” isn’t interchangeable with the word “church”. A cathedral is the seat of the regional bishop. A basilica, a commonly used word for churches in Italy, is defined as a large church. The Italian word for cathedral is duomo. I saw that term used frequently as well. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty          

St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

What I wasn’t prepared for was how incredibly beautiful the cathedrals and basilicas of Italy would be, or how much they would impact me. The architecture was amazing and inspiring. Victor Hugo wrote, “Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book.”  

The immensity of the structures was mind boggling, as was the age of many of the buildings and the length of time it took to complete a cathedral. It typically took more than 100 years to build a cathedral, and sometimes 200 to 300 years before the work was finished. Imagine the generations of builders and architects who created such enduring magnificence. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty        Siena Duomo

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica of St Mary of the Flower, Florence

They weren’t all elaborate structures, but each one was unique, and each told a story. As we wandered through the streets of villages, we would suddenly step into a piazza, a square, and there was usually a church housed there. They never failed to capture my attention or my appreciation, these keepers of history and art. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica in Lucca

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty St Francis Basilica in Assisi 

That is what I came to realize about the churches of Italy. They were museums, full of paintings, mosaics, stained glass and sculptures. They housed relics, in some instances. The worn floors told of the passage of many feet. That dark line across the marble was from generations of drowsy heads resting against the wall. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty St Peter’s Basilica 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty Basilica in Ravenna 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty             Cathedral in Orvieto 

As I entered the cathedrals and basilicas I was often moved to tears. The quiet spaces felt sacred. These churches are still in use. Services are held daily in many of them. However the Divine invitation felt deeper than a call to worship. 

It felt like an invitation to join with the countless souls who had sat or knelt within these walls throughout the centuries, and contemplate the expansiveness of life and the intricacies of the heart. There was the bittersweet realization of the permanence of these gorgeous stone cathedrals and the impermanence of human bodies. 

Oh, how glorious were those places. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty
“The cathedrals and churches architecturally prepare our souls for the beauty of the Eucharist.” Allen R Hunt

I love that quote in the context of the cathedrals of Italy. The eucharist is the sacrament of the Holy Communion, the drinking of the wine, the breaking of bread, signifying union with Christ through his sacrifice. 

For myself, viewing the cathedrals of Italy prepared my soul for the wondrous beauty of creative inspiration. And they opened my soul in unexpected ways to a deeper communion with the Divine. 

It was an invitation I was grateful I accepted. 

Preparing Our Souls for Beauty

No Yard, No Problem…Italy’s Gardens

This evening’s post is more a visual story, an opportunity to share a collection of photos showcasing Italy’s love of flowers and plants. One thing I noticed in the cities and villages was a lack of grassy yards. The charming cobblestone streets were lined with interesting shops that opened directly off the lanes. People lived in the floors above the shops. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens
In the more residential areas, large wooden doors also opened directly off of the streets, without porches or yards. There were paved courtyards and wide piazzas made of bricks or stones, but no areas of lawn. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens            Typical residential lane in Lucca, Italy. 

In spite of a lack of yards and green spaces in urban areas, I was delighted to discover that the Italians love their plants and flowers. I only had to look up, away from the ground, to find the gardens of Italy. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Balconies become miniature gardens in Italy. Geraniums were favorites for containers. Notice Lucca’s bell tower in the background, and in the pic below. There are trees growing atop it! 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Clever plant holder in the village of Monterosso. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Vines and containers in San Gimignano. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens Jasmine is very common in Italy, clinging to walls and archways. It was in full bloom when we were there, scenting the air. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens            Beautiful window boxes

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens        Tucked into a courtyard in Venice. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens             Flowers along a Venice canal. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens             Garden in Burano. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens              A street in Orvieto. 

In the Tuscany region, there were fields of vineyards, groves of olive trees and clusters of tall, skinny cedars and umbrella pines. In those rural areas, there was an abundance of flora and lush, green growth. I loved the Tuscan countryside. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens
However, I also appreciated the amazing beauty found in villages and towns…flowers and trees, vines and shrubs, all planted in containers. My gardener’s heart was filled with joy as I wandered the narrow streets. I often lagged behind as our group walked, my head tilted back, taking in the tiny gardens of Italy. 

It seemed there was always a way to bring nature into a space, no matter how small that space. A balcony of flowers here, a single potted plant there, a stone archway covered with sweetly scented jasmine…the people of Italy are people after my own heart. 

They surround themselves with growing, flowering plants. They surround themselves with incredible beauty. 

No Yard, No Problem...Italy's Gardens

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation?

One of the reasons I switched to a plant based lifestyle last summer was because of the trip to Italy this year. Before I embraced eating healthier, I had trouble walking without pain and I was using a cane. My hope was to walk without a cane and without pain, during the trip. 

If you’ve followed my healing journey, you know my health has been transformed by adopting a plant based lifestyle. No more cane and no more pain have been just two of the positive outcomes as a result. However, as the trip drew closer, I wondered if it was possible to eat plant based in Italy. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Breakfasts were easy while in Italy. Every hotel we stayed in offered a large breakfast buffet. I could choose from a selection of fresh and baked fruits, juices and even veggies such as green beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
But what about lunches and dinners, in a country famous for pasta? A Divine opportunity brought the answer. Because of severe weather in the US and being diverted to London, we missed the welcome dinner the first night of the tour. The next day, chatting with our tour director, Fabi, I asked if it was considered rude to request gluten free pasta at restaurants. 

Elissa, Dayan and I were about to head out into Rome for our first dinner. Fabi happened to be giving Dayan directions to nearby cafes. Otherwise, I would not have asked. And I felt reluctant to ask at a restaurant. I didn’t want to be perceived as a picky eater. That was my issue  though. 

Fabi assured me that most restaurants did indeed offer gluten free pasta and vegetarian or vegan meal options. My first dinner was in a delightful cafe with outdoor seating, located on a narrow street lined with restaurants. I enjoyed roasted potatoes and freshly grilled veggies. No one looked at me oddly or questioned my choice. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
The ease of ordering that first meal encouraged me to stay within my plant based diet during the entire trip. However, I have to praise Fabi for taking charge of my meals. Our tour included some lunches and dinners, at various restaurants and two different vineyards. Without me asking her to, she called ahead to every venue and explained that I was following a restricted diet. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Without exception, at each place I was served delicious, freshly prepared plant based meals. No gluten. No meat. No sugar, dairy or eggs. Instead of a sweet dessert, I was presented with a bowl or plate of sumptuous fruit. The chefs or head waiters introduced themselves to me before the meal, delivered each course with a flourish and a smile, and checked with me after to make sure I was happy with the food. 

Happy? I was thrilled! And those who brought me my special meals did so with a noticeable sense of accomplishment and pride that was endearing. I felt so well cared for, and not at all a burden. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
When we were free to eat on our own, I did fine ordering from the menu. Dayan noticed the small print that read gluten free available. From Rome to the coastal villages in Cinque Terre to Venice, gluten free pasta and/or vegan options were readily available, making it easy for me to stay plant based. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Was it difficult, eating differently from everyone else? Not at all. Was it boring? Absolutely not. I enjoyed a variety of delicious foods. And it was crucial for me. If I had abandoned my plant based lifestyle, even for a few days, I would have risked feeling unwell or opened myself up to discomfort. It was important to me to feel my very best. 

And I did do well. I walked with ease, 4-6 miles a day. I flew for hours and hours, without my legs locking up. I climbed stairs, which a year ago would have been impossible. Stairs can still be a challenge for me, due to years of pain and inflammation that has caused muscle tightness around my knees, but I am continuing to improve. I kept up with the tour group and I was extremely pleased with my level of fitness. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
My experience was encouraging. I found that it is possible to eat a plant based diet while on vacation. My tips are: make healthy eating a priority, drink plenty of water, get enough rest, and don’t be afraid to ask for specially prepared meals. 

I am so grateful for Fabi, who went above and beyond to ensure that I ate healthy meals. And I am grateful for each chef who took the time to create magnificent meals for me. I’m also so thankful for my grandson and daughter who frequently asked if I was finding healthy options on the menus and often checked ahead before choosing a cafe, just to make sure I had plenty to eat. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation
Surrounded by such caring and conscientious people, how could I not do well on this trip? And that would be my last suggestion for maintaining a diet while on vacation…surround yourself with supportive people. They may not eat what you eat, but they can certainly offer encouragement and love and compassion as you care for yourself.  

Healthy eating is a choice…a daily choice. Whether dining in my own home or in a fine restaurant in Venice, I am the one who decides what I will eat. I chose well. And my body thanked me for it. 

Can You Eat Plant Based While on Vacation

Be Mindful

At first glance, this story may not appear to have much to do with the Italy trip. However, the little  daily ritual that developed around the practice that is at the heart of this story, had a profound effect on my journey. 

Be Mindful
I wear contact lenses, and have since the age of 14. I don’t even own a pair of perscription glasses. A few days before flying to Italy, I realized that I had not purchased a spare set of lenses, in case I lost or broke a contact lens. While I didn’t want to focus on that scenario, it wasn’t without precedent. During my 2014 trip to Scotland, I did indeed break a lens while cleaning it. 

What to do? Because I believe that what I focus on expands, I didn’t want to worry about losing my contact lenses or dwell on that possibility. It wasn’t my intention to create the reality of losing a contact. And yet, having both lenses securely in my eyes meant the difference between seeing like this…

Be Mindful
And like this…

Be Mindful
This is what I came up with. I was much more likely to lose one of those small glass discs if I wasn’t paying attention. Being distracted, or thinking of something else, or rushing through the process raised my chances of a mishap. 

Every morning during the trip, as I cleansed my lenses and popped them into my eyes, I slowed down and repeated aloud to myself, “Be mindful. Be mindful.” I went through the same little ritual at night as I removed the lenses from my eyes and dropped them into their case. “Be mindful.” 

Be Mindful

I didn’t lose or break a contact lens, thanks to that daily exercise, which was a blessing. 

However, something else amazing happened. Bringing my attention to the moment each morning, and telling myself to be mindful, created an awareness of mindfulness that lasted throughout the day…an unexpected benefit as we traveled. 

Mindfulness is defined as a quality of fullness, and of attention, it is practicing immediacy, and a state of non-distraction. Research has shown that people are substantially happier when paying attention to what they are doing. 

Mindfulness can be achieved through a daily meditation practice. However, I found that the simple practice of bringing my full attention to the task at hand not only prevented a mishap with my lenses, it grounded me, centered me, and raised my awareness. 

As I moved through each long and fun packed day, I did so from a place of calmness and joy, observing the beautiful Italian cities and countryside. I noticed the people around me. I noticed what I was thinking and feeling and doing. At the end of the day, bringing my attention back to the moment prepared me for a night of rest and reminded me of the wonders of the day. 

Be Mindful

I loved how something so simple became a crucial part of my day. Be mindful. I am continuing this new practice at home, repeating the words each time I put in my contacts or remove them. Be mindful. 

On the last day of our tour, Fabiola, our wonderful tour director, shared words of wisdom with us. The Italians have a saying, similar to the well known Latin phrase, carpe diem…seize the day. 

In Italy they say cogli l’attimo…pick up the moment. It is a way of remembering to live each moment fully, holding it dear. Pick up the moment reminds them to be mindful

I had been practicing cogli l’attimo all week. What a beautiful truth. And how clearly I could see it. 

Be Mindful

An Angel Named Jason

While I was in Italy, my blog posts focused on each day’s adventures and photos that captured the beautiful landscapes and treasures around us. Honestly, by the end of the long, fun packed days, I barely had the energy to write anything more than that! 

Home now, I want to share some of the stories of Italy, providing depth to the experiences we had. Although this first tale didn’t actually take place in Italy, the events that unfolded enabled us to get to our destination in a timely, and miraculous, way. 

Let me tell you about Jason. 

An Angel Named Jason
Enroute to the Charlotte, NC airport, on our first travel day, the pilot suddenly announced that we were being diverted to Chattanooga, TN. Severe weather in the Charlotte area posed a threat to incoming aircraft. Airports in Knoxville and Chattanooga filled with airplanes, and deplaned passengers, as we all waited for clearance to proceed. 

Most of us on board these planes had connecting flights in Charlotte. In our case, my daughter Elissa, grandson Dayan and I needed to catch our international flight to Rome, Italy. As time ticked by while we were grounded in Chattanooga, it became doubtful that we were going to make our connection. 

We didn’t. The plane to Rome took off two hours before we made it to Charlotte. 

We weren’t the only passengers stranded in Charlotte. As more and more planes arrived late, the airport filled with displaced travelers, intent on finding another flight to get them to their destinations. Imagine that scene. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people scrambling for seats on the few planes that remained at the airport. And imagine the moods of those desperate passengers. There was crying. There was anger. There was frustration. 

We were concerned as well. We had a tour that started the next evening with a welcome dinner.  

And we made a conscious decision. The weather couldn’t be helped. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that connecting flights were missed. We were determined to treat the American Airlines employees with patience and kindness. 

We also took the action steps that we could. Dayan got on the phone with our Missouri travel agent, seeking advice. Ken attempted to book a new flight for us. There was an airplane leaving for London shortly. However, although he could see that there were seats available, he was not allowed to reserve them for us. We were required to speak to an American Airlines employee and arrange that ourselves. The problem with that was everyone was being told that flight was sold out. 

As we moved slowly toward the help counter, a 45 minute process, chaos roiled around us. The three women in line ahead of us were trying to get to Rome as well. Dayan’s dad and stepmom offered helpful suggestions via phone. And Ken called back with this advice: Ask in a kind and authoritative way for seats that were still showing as available on the London flight, even if we were told it was sold out. 

An Angel Named Jason
The series of events that happened next was miraculous to us. 

As we moved closer to the help counter, the situation sounded grim. There were simply no flights available until the next day. It seemed probable that we would not arrive in Rome until Friday, missing the beginning of our tour. The ladies in front of us didn’t seem to be finding seats as they spoke to a representive. We stepped up to speak to the next available rep. Dayan spoke confidently and kindly, explaining our situation. And then he asked for the seats on the London plane. The woman looked at her computer screen, and told us she didn’t want to waste any time. “Go quickly,” she said, “get to the departing plane’s gate and see if they can help you.” 

We had not heard those words spoken to anyone else. With a spark of hope, we trotted through the packed airport, dodging people, pulling our carry on luggage behind us. 

At the gate we were given conflicting information. No seats available. Get in another line. The plane had already been boarded and was preparing for take off. I got in the other line indicated while Elissa and Dayan stayed at the gate, talking to the women behind the counter there. When I turned around to check their progress, I saw Dayan talking to a young dark haired man. My grandson waved me over. 

The man’s name was Jason. He was an American Airlines employee and he took it upon himself to get us on that plane. I don’t know where he came from or why he decided to help us, but we were so grateful for his assistance, even if it didn’t work out. 

Jason moved to an empty counter and using the computer there, got to work. And he was determined. Others said there were no seats available. The computer kept freezing or getting bogged down in a loop. Jason kept working. He called out repeatedly to the two women, “These passengers are supposed to be on that plane. Hold the plane.” 

The time for departure came and went. The airplane remained at the gate. Jason kept working. The women came to believe we were supposed to be on the London plane. One woman even took responsibility for accidently deleting us from the system, sure that we were on the original passenger list. A rep kept checking on our status. The plane needed to leave. 

Jason kept working. He assured us we belonged on the flight. As he worked he shared with us that he was of Italian ancestry. Ah, the reason perhaps, that he was helping us so diligently. He said he still had family in a little town in northern Italy that we had probably never heard of. Lucca, it was called. “Lucca!” we answered, “Yes! We are visiting Lucca. We know of it.” And it turned out, Jason had been on vacation. This evening, this night of chaos, was his first shift back at work. He didn’t know it when he reported to work.  We didn’t know it when we hurried to the gate.  But he was there for us. 

One by one, Jason got us entered into a system that didn’t want to accept us. They were victories worth cheering over as each boarding pass was printed out, and gratitudes were expressed each time the captain was told there were passengers still coming on board. 

Jason did it. He got us on the plane to London. He gave Elissa the name of his great aunt, who owns a hotel in Lucca. We gave him our deepest thanks. As we took our seats on the airplane, among passengers who were, amazingly, not upset by the delay, I marveled over what had just happened. I can’t explain how it happened. I only know that we kept our hearts open and our attitudes pleasant and we asked. We asked and we received. And we flew to London overnight, and from there to Rome. Jason made that connecting flight happen as well. 

An Angel Named Jason
We thought of Jason often during the Italy tour. We talked about him as we wandered through the magical village of Lucca. Could that older woman unlocking her door be his aunt? Did his family live down this lane? We loved that beautiful, medieval town. We loved the connection between it and the angel who came to our rescue in a crowded airport full of upset travelers. 

We are grateful to the Divine, who met us where we were in the journey, and heard our request for help. We are grateful for our travel angel, who appeared with the intention of getting us on the plane. He created a pocket of calm and assurance around us, and brought together a team of people who worked on our behalf. 

Grazie, Jason. Grazie mille. A thousand thank yous. 

An Angel Named Jason  The bell tower of Lucca 

The Village at the Top of the World

On our last day of travel, as we journeyed back to Rome, we stopped at the village of Orvieto in the Umbria region of Italy. One of Orvieto’s distinctive qualities is that it is perched on a volcanic butte, high above the valley below. 

This ancient city was established by the Etruscans and then annexed by the Romans in the 3rd century BC! Because of its high elevation, it didn’t need a fortified wall. The ruins of a fortress are still evident near the sheer cliff face. A beautiful garden lies now within what remains of the fortress walls. 

The Village at the Top of the World
To reach Orvieto our excellent bus driver, Luciano, dropped us off at a lower level parking lot. We rode in a cable car to the fortress remains, and then traveled on up to the village by shuttle. 

Here are highlights from our explorations of Orvieto. 

The Village at the Top of the World This is what it looks like when 42 people crowd into a cable car. It is good we have become a family! 

The Village at the Top of the World Our amazing tour director Fabiola, Fabi for short, who took such good care of us all. 

The Village at the Top of the World The Cathedral of Orvieto. Construction began in the 13th century and was completed 300 years later. 

Following are interior pics of the cathedral. We have visited numerous cathedrals and basilicas…and every single one astounds me when I enter it. They are huge. And beautiful. And different from each other. The churches are so important because of the architecture, paintings and mosaics within. They are quite literally museums with irreplaceable works of art on the floors, ceilings and walls. I am always moved to tears as I wander around inside. 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

A quaint cobblestone lane in Orvieto. Love all the jasmine growing up the walls. We discovered Dayan is allergic to the pollen though! 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World There are Pinocchio dolls everywhere, since the author of the story, Carlo Collodi, is Italian. And no, I am not bringing one home! 

The Village at the Top of the World

There is a festival in Orvieto tomorrow, welcoming the beginning of summer. Doves will be released at the cathedral. The town looked festive, with flags and flowers everywhere! 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World It became a daily tradition to have gelato. Elissa and I stayed with fruit sorbets but Dayan enjoyed his Italian ice creams. These were our last treats: Tiramisu for Dayan, banana for Elissa and coconut for me. 

The Village at the Top of the World

This is what it looks like, from the top of the world! We walked back down the road, from the village to the fortress ruins. The walk was so worth it. The views were spectacular! 

The Village at the Top of the World

Our last outing for the Italy trip was perfect. We wandered the streets and piazzas of an ancient town, toured a magnificent cathedral and visited Montanucci, a world famous pastry shop that is 100 years old. Our group was treated to coffees and an assortment of divine pastries. (I had water and a tomato and olive salad. Don’t feel sorry for me! It was delicious.) We savored our last gelatos. Although our large group was chatty, as usual, the day was tinged with small sorrows as we ticked off the “lasts”. 

What an adventure we have had! What memories we created. And how grateful I am to have experienced Italy with Elissa and Dayan and 43 other adventurous souls. Tomorrow we fly out of Rome. But we will carry Italy home with us, in our hearts. 

The Village at the Top of the World

Visiting Assisi

Forgive a brief blog post tonight! This was a very long travel day as we begin our journey back to Rome. And June 2 is a national holiday in Italy. With the holiday falling on Friday, it created a three day weekend. Roads were heavily congested as people headed to resorts, family homes and the sea. We were caught in traffic multiple times, extending our travel time. 

We at last arrived at our destination, the beautiful and charming village of Assisi, known as the birthplace and home of Italy’s patron saint, Francis. We enjoyed touring St Francis’ Basilica, where the saint’s body is entombed, and climbing the long road to the square at the city’s highest point. 

Visiting Assisi
Enjoy these photos of our time in Assisi. I am very weary and the need for sleep is overtaking me. I will be posting more stories and photos from our Italy trip in the days to come. 

Visiting Assisi The bell tower at St Francis’ Basilica

Visiting AssisiImpressive facade on this 13th century cathedral. No photography was allowed inside. 

Visiting AssisiGorgeous views across the valley below Assisi

Visiting AssisiMedieval buildings line narrow streets that climb upward.

Visiting AssisiThe Italians love their flowers! And I love that about the Italians. 

Visiting AssisiSelfie in front of the St Francis Basilica. These daily selfies in different locations have been fun to do. 

Tomorrow we stop in Orvieto to explore and then we arrive in Rome for our final dinner together. We are sad our tour is coming to an end, but oh, the memories we have stored up! Until tomorrow…ciao!